Icons, word of God in colour

Posted on Sep 13, 2019

Sr MARIE-BENEDICTE, osb Iconographer “The icon is the Word of God in colour.” Colour is what reveals the message of an icon: an ancient object that, born in the cradle of the Eastern Church, over the centuries has preserved precise characteristics and techniques of realization. In the images that depict the life of Jesus, there are not many details, yet the gold of the sky is able to represent the divinity, the purple represents sadness, the green represents hope…

… In Jerusalem, an important centre where the art of iconography is handed down is the Benedictine monastery on the Mount of Olives. Here for half a century, the real teacher was Sister Marie-Paul, who died in May. After 17 years working alongside her, Sister Marie-Bénédicte took over her inheritance.

Sr MARIE-BENEDICTE, osb Iconographer “It is a great responsibility to have inherited her message, but I received it as a grace. We had begun an icon together, and 15 days before her death she saw it through. She was so happy that I could finish it alone that she told me “that she could go”: she had the impression that she had finished her work.”

Marie-Bénédicte shows the workshop where, with the help of two sisters, she works every day on the icons: the one with the representation of Jesus the Good Shepherd, or the one with Jesus and St. Thomas, are still being worked on.

Sr MARIE-BENEDICTE, osb Iconographer “This is the icon that represents the disciples of Emmaus: it is possible to observe Jesus speaking with the two pilgrims, who say “we had hoped…”, so here the color is purple: sadness. But later, when they recognize Jesus, they will say “Didn’t our hearts burn…”?

It takes at least one month of work for a small icon, two or three months for larger ones with many characters: the technique involves several steps, so often you work on multiple icons at once. There are hundreds of icons created by Sister Marie-Paul over the decades, and the church next to the convent preserves several that represent episodes from the life of Christ, an authentic visual transposition of the Word of God.

Sr MARIE-BENEDICTE, osb Iconographer “The icon, for her and for everyone, is the Word of God. When she spoke to the pilgrims about the icons she did not say “I give you the message of the icon”, but rather “I share the Word with you”.”