a word about icons

The traditional icon is a stylized religious picture that is usually painted on a wood panel in egg tempera. Icons depict Christ, the Trinity, St. Mary, other saints, and events in the gospels and lives of the saints. Icons have been used in both eastern and western churches. Icons were painted or placed on the walls of churches and on interior beams and screens. They were also displayed in private houses and at wayside shrines.

The oldest extant icons date from the fifth century. The Seventh Ecumenical Council of 787 determined that the use of icons is supported by the Incarnation, in which the Word of God united to created human nature and thus to matter in general. That Council also taught that the honor given to an icon passes to that which it represents. The eastern churches developed the icon tradition extensively. In the west the tradition was eclipsed by the Renaissance and other artistic movements. However, offshoots of the icon tradition in the west include the use of stained glass windows and the illustrations in manuscripts and liturgical books. Today there is a revival of the use of icons in the western churches, including the Episcopal Church.

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The Holy Trinity

After the style of the 15th-century Russian monk Andrei Rublev, the icon portrays the story of Genesis 18 in which three strangers approach Abraham and Sarah, who show them hospitality and welcome. The three turn out to be angels of the Lord, bringing greetings that Abraham and Sarah will one day be regarded as patriarch and matriarch of a great people (represented by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.)

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Crucifix with The Virgin Mary, St. John, and St. Francis

It was while praying before a painted cross at the church of San Damiano that St. Francis was called by Christ in a vision to “Go and repair my house”—a commission that launched the Franciscan movement to work for renewal in the Church. This cross suggests elements of the San Damiano cross, and is further inspired by a style of cross that became popular in Franciscan communities shortly after the death of St. Francis in 1226.  Mary and John grieve as witnesses to the Crucifixion. A Seraph stands guard even as the heavens marvel at this event. And St. Francis kneels in adoration of the healing wounds of Christ while the flowing blood symbolically cleanses the bones of Adam, whose burial site was said to be at the Place of the Skull.