Pastor Duncanus and the cult of St.Helper in Wormer in Holland
Year mention: 1617
Jesus Christ ; St. Helper
Judging art
Outer appearance

To prevent the believers from misidentifying a saint, such as happened in Wormer, Holland, where the people identified Christ as St. Helper, it is useful to write the name of the saint on the artwork

Molanus, Johannes
Anonymous, Sunte Hulpe, 1492
University Library Kiel

Molanus recounts the story of the misidentification of Christ as St. Helper by the believers in Wormer, Holland, during the pastorship of Martinus Duncanus, or Maarten Donk, which lasted from 1541 to 1558, to demonstrate the usefulness of writing the saint’s name on the artwork.

“But sometimes the name is not enough. I remember hearing in Amsterdam, some years ago, from theology students who are now pastors, but who were once students of Sir Duncanus at Wormer in Holland, that there was in the latter town an image of the Crucified One, famous for its great antiquity, which was carried in processions during annual public prayers. The parishioners of Wormer told their pastor that their community had appealed to this image against the flood and that it was the image of St. Helper. What martyr St. Helper would have been, they did not know, except that they claimed he was the Crucified One shown in the image. Therefore, the learned and conscientious pastor searched the catalogues of saints and martyrologies for a crucified martyr with the name of Helper or another name close to it. He did not find anything like it, but he realised that this image related to the Crucifixion of our Saviour, albeit in an ancient style. So he taught his flock, after having enlightened their ignorance, to recognise from now on in the image of their Saviour the one who is our real Saviour and whom, not without judgement, the inhabitants of the place called by this German expression Sinte Helper, which means Holy Helper. Therefore the caption with the name.
It is not known to what antiquity this kind of painting goes back, but attention should be paid to the fact that in the time of Ambrose there were such paintings in the churches, as can be deduced from the sixth chapter of the book which he addresses to a mistaken angel.”

“Quanquam aliquando nomen non sufficiat. Hinc memini me ante annos aliquot audivisse a quibusdam Amstelredamensibus, tum Theologiae studiosis, nun autem pastoribus, qui Wormariae in Hollandia fuerant discipuli Don Martinini Duncani, in praedicto pago esse imaginem crucifixi perentiquam et celebrem, quae in annua supplicatione circumfertur. De ea Wormarienses dicebant Duncano pastori suo, eam Wormariam appulisse contra fluxum aquarum et esse imaginem van Sinte Helper. Qualis autem martyr fuerit Sinte Helper nesciebant, nisi quod dicerent eum crucifixum fuisse, quod imago ex primebat. Hac de causa doctus ac diligens Pastor multun quaesivit in Sanctorum Catalogis et Martyrologiis Marturem crucifixum qui Helperus, aut simili fere vocabulo diceretur. Cum autem nihil tale inveniret, sed animadverterer imaginem referre omnino salvatoris nostri crucifixionem licet antiquo more, monuit subditos suos, ut seposita ignorantia, eam imaginem posthac Salvatoris nostri esse afnoscerent, qui sicut Salvator noster est, sic non enepte Teutonico vocabulo ab incolis eius loci dictus est Sinte Helper, quod Latine est sanctus Adiutor. Haec de nominum subscriptione.
Porro sententiis pulcris, potissimum e sacra Scriptura desumptis exornari exxlesias, notum est, sed cui de antiquitate huiusmodi picturae non constat, is ex sexto capite Ambrosii ad virginem lapsam animadvertat et Ambrosii aetate talem picturam in ecclesiis usitatem fuisse.”

Date mention

Historical Location



Iconclass Number

Molanus, De historia sanctarum imaginum et picturarum (1617), book 2, ch. 53, 180-181

Molanus 1996, 276.

Permanent Link