Sunday, November 21, 2010

Icon of St. Columba

This is my first attempt at painting a religious Icon. St. Columba (or "Colmcille," in Gaelic) lived from 521-597 AD and founded the monestaries at Kells, Ireland, and on the Island of Iona off of the western coast of Scotland. Both monestaries were known for their production and protection of early Christian illustrated manuscripts, including the Book of Kells which is currently housed at Trinity College in Dublin.

This icon was initally fashioned after an original prototype by Maria Elchaninov-Struve. I began it in March of 2010 under the tutelage of Iconographer Kerry Wiederspahn, and finished it today. It is painted using egg tempera on a gesso-covered board, and the water used throughout was water I had collected from St. Columba's well in Kells, Ireland about six years ago.

The entire process was an incredible moving, spiritual experience. The Saint "emerged" as Icon transitioned from a'blank slate,' to pigments floating on water ("the Spirit of God hovered over the waters...") , to the initial shapes, final colors, and addition of "light" emanating from the rocks and Saint himself. This was only the first Icon of what I hope will be a life-long endeavor.

I did feel led to make some changes to the initial prototype:

Columba's staff has been made into a rustic crozier, symbolic of his status of Abbot;

He is holding an illustrated manuscript under his arm;

The traditional Greek letters "IX CX" (Jesus Christ) have been replaced with Gaelic "T I C" (Tighearna Iosa Criosd, or "Lord Jesus Christ");

Visible Celtic knots have been 'carved' into the Standing Cross;

I have added the name "Naomh Colmcille" at the top (Gaelic for "Saint Columba");

I have kept 'pock-marks' in the gesso surface, representative of the rocky ground and rock structures on the Island of Iona; and

The entire icon is framed in green, the traditional iconographic color for nature and growth.

While deeply appreciative of the eastern orthodox spiritual exercise of 'writing' icons, I am a western Christian, and feel a bit less contrained by Byzantine, Greek, and Russian rules. My apologies to those who may find offense in this.

Prayer of Saint Columba

Let me bless almighty God,
whose power extends over sea and land,
whose angels watch over all.

Let me study sacred books to calm my soul:
I pray for peace,
kneeling at heaven's gates.

Let me do my daily work,
gathering seaweed, catching fish,
giving food to the poor.

Let me say my daily prayers,
sometimes chanting, sometimes quiet,
always thanking God.

Delightful it is to live
on a peaceful isle, in a quiet cell,
serving the King of kings.

1 comment:

Macrina Lewis said...

I found your icon by a search for St. Columba images. I am myself a trained iconography who is Orthodox. I just wanted to mention to you that the IC XC for Christ is a very universal thing. Even though an iconographer uses the language of the people for whom it is intended for the title and other things (where it would be appropriate to use Celtic on this icon, if you wished), the IC XC is never done in any language other than Greek. As you pointed out, your objective is not to fully appreciate the theological tradition from which icons spring, but I still thought this might be useful information for you. May God bless your efforts! Macrina Lewis