Recently, nine parishioners from St Francis of Assisi, Sheffield attended a Beginners Iconography Course at the Monastery of Our Lady in Carnforth. Lindsay Reynolds was one of the party and this is her account of the very beneficial experience.
“A group of 9 ladies from St Francis of Assisi, enjoyed a retreat at the Monastery of Our Lady of Hyning. The retreat was led by Sr Mary Stella who is an iconographer, that is an icon painter.
During the 5 days we learned about the history of icons, painted our own copy of the 15th century Byzantine icon, Christ Pantocrator, took part in the daily prayers of the community and enjoyed the beautiful grounds and quiet of the monastery.
The days were busy but peaceful and as the painting progressed alongside our understanding of the significance of icons, how they are used in the Eastern Church and the symbolism used, we found the rhythm of the prayers in the community kept us focussed on God.
Our icon, Christ Pantocrator shows a half length image of a bearded Jesus. Pantocrator is a Greek word meaning ‘Ruler of All’. All aspects of the image have importance. For example the red tunic represents Christ’s humanity and the blue cloak His divinity. The characteristics of ‘justice’ and ‘mercy’ are shown by the dissimilar eyes. The gold halo is the symbol for sanctity and is inscribed with a cross and the Greek letters, spelling ‘HO ON’. In English, this becomes “Who Am,” the name used for God in Exodus 3:14. On the background is written ‘IC XC’. IC are the first and last letters of Jesus. The letters XC are first and last letters of Christ.
The week was both refreshing and challenging; despite making a copy we found the painting was difficult. We mixed the paint using egg yolk and ground pigments and used fine brushes to apply this in layers onto the gesso board. We had much help and encouragement from Sr Mary Stella. It was interesting to taste life in a religious community and have the peace and tranquillity to pray and reflect. We all appreciated being away from the noise of our normal lives and hardly missed the TV or radio.
At the Eucharist at end of the week Fr Michael McKenna, Chaplain to the community, blessed our icons, which are now on display in our homes. It was a truly blessed week.”