Yvonne Bell (1951 – )
African Saint – St Bernard Mizeki Icon, 2008
Acrylic and 23 carat gold leaf on African Iroko hardwood
56cm x 41.5cm
Loaned by Southwark Cathedral
Southwark/Zimbabwe Link – Bernard Mizeki – Missionary and Martyr
Bernard Mizeki was born, probably in 1861, on the shores of the Bay of Inhambane, in Mozambique south of Beira.
Aged 14, he travelled to Cape Town with other young men to look for work. He found work in a butchery and during his time there he came into contact with the Anglican Church.
He was baptized and confirmed. Although he did not begin his education until late he had particular gifts for music and languages. He was also a man who prayed much, and his gentleness and graciousness impressed all who met him. In time he came to believe that God was calling him to be a missionary.
His chance came in 1891, when Bishop Knight-Bruce recruited him to join a party to make the difficult journey via Beira into Eastern Zimbabwe to found the new diocese. Mizeki was given the task of living among Chief Mangwende’s people near Marondera, and to build up the mission there.
For the next five years, Mizeki worked hard and after a time, he became a key member of the small group which was given the task of producing part of the Prayer Book and the Scriptures in the vernacular.
He soon realised that the belief of the local people was something to be respected, and upon which he could build. His humility was such that he destroyed furniture he had built for himself because he wanted to live the same life as those around him. His identification with Mangwende’s people became even more complete when he married a young woman called Mutwa, who was related to the Chief.
Converts began to gather round Mizeki but some of his teachings aroused jealousy. So, when the behaviour of many white settlers provoked the first great rebellion anyone associated with them was under threat. Mizeki was advised to leave his post and seek safety until peace was restored. He refused to leave his converts, and on 18 June 1896, he was speared to death by two of Mangwende’s sons. Mutwa escaped, and in November gave birth to a daughter, Bernardina.
Mizeki’s life and death have deeply influenced the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe. His memory is preserved by books that have been written about him, and schools named after him.
The shrine which Bishop Paget caused to be erected at the site of his martyrdom is the scene of a huge open-air service held each year at the weekend nearest to 18 June.
(The Diocese of Southwark Website. The Bridge. Vol.7.no1. February 2002)
Yvonne Bell is a Christian artist who was trained in iconography by Dom. Anselm at the Abbey of Our Lady and St John at Alton in Hampshire. Yvonne works from her Northamptonshire studio. In addition to being an iconographer she also designs church vestments with painted silk panels as well as banners, chasubles, stoles, copes, mitres, lectern and pulpit falls and altar cloths.