Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Here are the Icons we made!

As I wrote in the last few entries, those of us in initial formation took an iconography class. We learned about the history and meaning of icons during the first week and in the second week, we got to "write" icons under the guidance and direction of our professor, Sister Mariella.

Sister Mariella is no stranger to iconography. She prayed and wrote two San Damiano Crucifixes. One is in St. Rita's Chapel. The San Damiano Crucifix is an icon that Franciscans hold dear. St. Francis received his call to rebuild the Church when he was praying before the crucifix in San Damiano. When he heard this call, he thought he had to rebuild the physical structure of the church. He realized later that his call was to rebuild the Catholic Church. For Franciscans, this crucifix is a reminder of our call and commitment to God.

This summer, S. Mariella took on the challenge of teaching us. We learned that icons are sacred images. These images are the Bible of the Illiterate: the Word is for hearing and the Icon is for sight. They are called "Gates to Heaven" or "Windows to the Eternal." Icons are rooted in the incarnation and they represent humanity and divinity. Their simplicity, flatness, unreal colors, and different facial structures can be difficult for some Westerners to appreciate at first, but this "different" artistic language emphasizes that the figures being represented in the icon are beyond the physical world. In other words, they are spiritual.

Icons were controversial for a time. In the eighth century, there was an Iconoclastic movement that was anti-icons. The two major arguments of Iconoclasm were the prohibition against fashioning images, and the presumption that it was idol worship. (Exodus 20:4- " You shall not make for yourself an idol.) However, these misconceptions were overcome as St. John Damascene, St. Athenasius, St. Cyril of Alexandra, Empress Theodora, and others corrected the false notions. In 843, Theodora restored the devotion to the images. They once again became a way for people to pray, as people understood that icons are not being worshiped.

We also learned that we "write" icons. I kept having to correct myself for saying "paint." When we look at an icon, we "read" them. When we write them, the darkest colors usually go first, for a gradual movement to light, to represent the our interior movements from dark to light. The whole process is a prayer. One cannot write an icon without praying.

I am just fascinated that the icons don't smell, because we made the paint with egg yoke! That's how iconographers make the paint.

Here are our icons in front of the San Damiano Cross in St. Rita's Chapel:

I was able to pray with the Good Shepherd icon last weekend, which was very enriching! My icon was of St. Monica (far left), and it helped me to feel more connected with her and her story.

Right now, we are applying the varnish to the icons. It's really helping to bring out the colors!


  1. Sister Monica and all who "wrote" an Icon, they are beautiful and professional looking. I saw them while at the Motherhouse. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I liked your explanation of the icons. You did learn a lot in your class! Beautiful--it is certainly worth saying three times!

  3. Wow! Beautiful work, ladies! This is just spectacular! :D

    God's been calling me to religious life, but I've been wondering why he's been telling me to go back to college and switch to an art major. I think now I just may have an idea. :)

    Art's always been a passion of mine, but I never knew you could pray through it! I think I will be exploring iconography in my work. :)

    Thank you so much for this post! You have greatly contributed to my spiritual life! :D

  4. I am so glad that we've been able to help. Art is a much needed area for sisters. You will help to beautify whichever convent that God is leading you to, and be able to help other sisters to do artwork for their own spirituality and personal growth. Our sister artists have been valuable to our community. They have made the pictures for our stations of the cross, as well as other art forms to help all of us grow in our relationships with God. They also teach art classes at our college, giving it an awesome religious dimension. So it's an excellent major to have.

    You might like this book:
    We recently found it in the novitiate library.

    God bless you!
    Sister Monica

  5. Is it possible to purchase an icon from you? Is it possible to purchase a smaller version of the San Damiano Cross? Perhaps with different figures at the foot of the cross?

    1. Hi Christ's Fool! Thanks for your interest! I will speak with Sister Mariella about that. She is the icon writer of the San Damiano crosses around our Motherhouse.