An icon for our times: Covid, War… and the Queen’s Jubilee

Christi Lux Mundi – A new sanctuary icon for All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London

Christi Lux Mundi . 133 x 65 cm. Egg tempera, casein and oil on panel with gold, platinum and palladium leaf and cabochon amethysts

In the beginning The idea for a sanctuary icon was first mooted in late January 2020, from the outset, Fr David Houlding envisaged that it should be an image “which speaks of the glory of God” and that it would convey “the glory coming from the Sanctuary in a way that would permeate the whole building…”

Certain icon commissions (in my 37 years’ professional experience) sometimes take on a mission of their own and evolve incrementally to become something which can not only function on several different levels simultaneously – but also allows for new interpretations of an ancient tradition. This is only possible when the iconographer is fortunate enough to be trusted with a free hand in terms of the design, given the means to use the very best materials, and most importantly, given the time and support to bring it all together – all of which were given to me by Fr David.

The initial brief with its need to connect the image to the sacramental action of the altar was quite enough of a challenge. A site visit reassured me that Fr David’s vision would be best realised through the iconography of the Resurrected Christ. Little did we realise how appropriate this theme would become. Within a few months, it was tragically all too clear the icon would need to commemorate the lives of those loved ones who had been taken from the All Hallows parish family during the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, the icon also stands in recognition of the selfless work and sacrifice of all those frontline individuals who helped us through those two years, particularly those working in the NHS.

Design matters This work was never intended to be  a ‘holy icon’ in the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox church, it is a contemporary western icon made for an Anglican church. This image was composed to hybridise Latin iconography of the Risen Christ with certain Byzantine elements and motifs (e.g., The Transfiguration).

The figure stands in a classical, contrapposto pose, robed but not fully covered to reveal the side-wound. The robes ‘flutter’ either side of the figure – a Byzantine formula adopted in the medieval west and only used for images of the Resurrected Christ. The figure stands within a mandorla, an almond-shaped, sacred zone of heavenly blues graduating into the blue-black of Uncreated Light and punctuated with six broad rays of light and Byzantine eight-pointed stars.

Lux Mundi In order to fulfil the brief of ‘glory’ radiating from the sanctuary, I needed to use materials and techniques that would reflect light and create this phenomenological effect. Inspired by the Greek concept of poikilia (simplified here to imply the affective, sensory experience of encountering a variety of fabulous things) and the 12th century technique of translucidia, a process of painting on precious metal, described in Theophilus’ De diversis artibus, I was able to devise a methodology for the making the icon to be as radiant, bright and light-reflective as possible. It was at this stage, I decided on the title Christi Lux Mundi. The imperial purple coloured, lower hemispherical section however, uses a marbling technique with gold dust which is entirely my own method, devised for this commission. The Chi Rho is in platinum.

The panel itself was a bespoke order from a maker in the Veneto region of Italy, it is made of linden wood with the traditional gesso ground. The shape itself echoes the arches of the nave and windows of All Hallows. The painted parts of the figure were executed in egg tempera, using another method from Theophilus. The robes however, were executed in casein and oil glazes, using the translucidia technique over genuine palladium.

Seeing eternity The six rays are literally cosmic. They are ‘gilded’ in genuine platinum leaf, one of the most precious metals found on our planet. However, both platinum and palladium (the metal used for the robes) are now believed by some scientists to have originated extra-terrestrially in the cosmos, formed (according to one source) aeons ago from minerals metamorphosed by the intense pressure of an imploding/exploding star and brought to our planet by meteorites… (The analogy of something precious and strong resulting from destruction seems a very appropriate message for this icon to convey). Platinum and palladium are both extremely hard, tough metals and difficult to work with (compared to the soft malleable gold leaf used for the halo and borders).

War & Peace. Coincidentally, both of these ‘white’ precious metals are found in deposits in the Eastern Ukraine and are one of the resources currently being fought over. This icon, planned before the war – but completed during the first few months of this shameful Russian atrocity, thus becomes an image which calls for peace.

The Platinum Jubilee One other, very different and happy event closer to home is also referenced in the use of platinum in this icon – symbolising the 70 years of service our Queen Elizabeth has given. The history of our times is therefore fully present in this icon.

The Prayer Point Further enrichment is found in the two amethysts present on the icon; one amethyst embellishes the Crozier of Victory – and the other sits at the centre of the ‘prayer point’, with its corresponding cross in the roundel, on the lowest part of the panel. This prayer point is designed to be touched; it is the place where  prayers are made – and which are then acknowledged in the cross held triumphantly by the Christ who is the Light of the World.

The icon was blessed and installed on 5th June, 2022, during a Solemn Mass of Pentecost by the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Reverend Dr Jonathan Baker

 

 

 

Summer Workshops at St Seraphim’s, Walsingham

Helen with one of the Trustees

Judging from the feedback, the first three Heritage Lottery Funded icon painting ‘taster’ workshops have all been extremely well received, and were certainly enthusiastically attended. Whilst most of the participants were from the North Norfolk area, several individuals came from  further afield – even as far as Yorkshire.

Whilst hardly anyone had had any previous experience of painting (or ‘writing’ as some prefer to say) icons, everyone completed a small icon to take away with them and gained an insight into painting with egg tempera and how it is used within the Russian icon painting tradition. Given the remit of the workshops, the gilding of halos etc was done with imitation leaf – and to great effect!

   

The new gallery (formerly the renown icon painting studio of the St Seraphim brothers, Fr David and Leon Liddament) has been beautifully refurbished and provided the perfect icon painting environment as the walls and new display cabinets are now filled with icons and exhibits from the collection. (And thus becoming the only icon museum within an Orthodox church in the UK.)

   

  

A different archetypal Russian icon was chosen for each workshop; an Archangel Michael (after Rublev), A 19th century Mother of God of Kazan and a 16th century Novgordian icon of St Parsakeva Piatnitsa. Each image was looked at in terms of its iconography and history, as well as being contextualised within the tradition of prayer and veneration.

The beautiful Quiet Garden of St Seraphim’s gave us yet another inspirational space to enjoy during our breaks, amidst the tastefully planted  perennial borders of flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees – all at their seasonal best along the considerable length of the former railway platform . The delightful geese, Max and Wanda, added their own quirky charm to the events. 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Icon Painting Workshops at St Seraphim’s Trust, Walsingham 2019 & 2020

St Seraphim’s Trust have invited Helen to deliver several icon painting ‘taster’ workshops in 2019 and 2020 as part of their Heritage Lottery Funded programme of activities.

There will be three weekend workshops in the summer of 2019 and two weekend sessions, plus a longer five day workshop in  2020.

Summer 2019 workshops
(10.00 am – 4.15 pm daily)

Cost: £25.00 per person

18th & 19th May : FULL
8th & 9th June: FULL
20th & 21st July: FULL

Waiting list available

2020 workshops

(Times and cost tbc)

4th & 5th April

16th & 17th May

15th – 18th June (5 days)

The workshops will take place in the new gallery space and provide a basic introduction to icons and the technique of icon painting. Participants will be able to ‘make and take’ a small icon and gain a deeper appreciation of Russian icons through the tradition established at St Seraphim’s in the mid 1960s.

Places are limited to 6-8 pax per workshop and priority will be given to local participants. Materials will be supplied.

To book a place, or for more information, please contact St Seraphim’s Trust directly:

Tel: 01328 820610

St Seraphim’s Trust
Station Rd
Walsingham
Norfolk
NR22 6DG

Two new icons for All Hallows, Gospel Oak

On the occasion of the patronal festival of All Hallows, 4th November 2018, this pair of new icons were blessed and installed by Bishop Peter Wheatley (retired). The Dean of Hereford, Michael Tavinor, gave the homily.

The icons were commissioned by Fr David Houlding as part of a major project to create a new main entrance area for this large church. The icons were designed to face the huge new glass doors at the west end as a sign of welcome. The Mother of God icon was further designed to be a memorial icon for Diane Clover, who had worshipped at All Hallows for many years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both icons are original designs (in the Russian tradition) with the blue colour of the robes creating a visual link to the dominant blues of the stained glass of the east end windows.

Christ Pantocrator for Cuckfield

This icon, after the famous deisis mosaic at the Haghia Sophia, Istanbul, was especially commissioned for a new prayer corner at Holy Trinity Church, Cuckfield, West Sussex. The icon has been gifted by a local family who have worshipped at the church for many years.

The  free-standing candle ‘Tree of Light’ upon which the icon is mounted, is a bespoke commission by the Oxfordshire-based artist and metal worker, Christopher Townsend.

This new and unique installation has been sited in the south aisle to form a new and beautiful prayer space in this beautiful church which dates from the 12th century. The Tree and Icon were blessed by Archdeacon Fiona Windsor of Chichester Diocese, during a special service for the dedicatory feast of Holy Trinity.

 

 

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