January 17, 2021

Iconographers at Work

I hadn’t expected to be talking about church architecture and art this week. But that was changed when I saw the 60 Minutes segment we talked about this morning and the following video from our local newspaper. It’s about iconographers from Greece who are painting in the Byzantine style in the interior of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Carmel, Indiana.


You can also see a display of photographs at IndyStar.com.

Sometimes words fail in the face of divine beauty.


  1. Chaplain Mike,
    The iconography alone has for a long time had me part of the way to Eastern Orthodoxy; beautiful, numinous, deep, resonant, sacramental, reverent, inviting prayer and prayerful presence, etc., etc., etc.

    But if there are any iconoclasts in the audience, I’d expect them to show up soon.

  2. cermak_rd says

    Egg tempera is awesome. I have painted a few pieces with it and it is fascinating to work with. Usually, the colors are mixed off of ochres–iron ores will give you red and yellow usually ultramarine will give you blue, carbon from charred grape branches black and these days usually zinc or titanium (almost never lead which is usually fairly safe if bound with oil but not water plus one typically works with powdered pigments and one does not want to inhale lead powder.) will get you white, though typically lightening colors is more often done with water dilution than adding white.

    Classic egg tempera and also icon writing (just a specialized form of egg tempera painting) involves layering with small brush strokes. And one can’t work in too small of an area for very long lest one bring up earlier layers. So for those huge icons to be done quickly is highly impressive!

    The technique involves mixing ones own paint out of pigments (either powder or a dispersion), an egg yolk, and water. I’d be curious to know what they used to draw the pattern on the wall before beginning or if they started with paint? I have used silverpoint but that’s on gesso and I’m not sure what their ground is.

  3. Love those beautiful paintings!

    I think they can be a great aid to us in our devotion and worship.

    Do those images have any power, unto themselves? I don’t believe they do.

  4. I can’t help but compare these last two posts to the post before them: the Noah’s Ark reconstruction/building at Cornerstone Church. One is a cartoon world for children (in the most condescending way adults tend to think of them) and Sagrada Familia and the icons in this video are rich, compelling mysteries that invite not just adults, but children to contemplate God’s beyond-ness, not in terms of straight lines or cartoons, but in terms of his mystery and majesty.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      THAT is what the Evangelical Circus has lost in their obsessive Protestantism and Purification and Theological Correctness and Culture War.

  5. br. thomas says

    Thank you for sharing the video – the work is lovely, and yet, very powerful at the same time.

  6. Off topic, but there is white smoke at the Sistine Chapel!

  7. Breaking news, and I was caught completely on the hop!

    Habemus papam!

    Now we’re just waiting for the announcement of the new pope and to see him.

    I genuinely believed this would go all the way to the end of the week, so I didn’t bother checking the teatime news. Naturally, that means at 6 o’clock Irish time, they elected the new guy 🙂

    Currently watching the Vatican live feed to find out who our new leader is. Whoever he may be, pray for us, my brothers and sisters!

    • Pope Francis I (Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina) and the first Jesuit to be elected pope.

      Let the conspiracy theories begin!


      • Josh in FW says


        Here’s are my favorite parts of a RCP article on the new Pope:

        Bergoglio often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina’s capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.
        He accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.
        “Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit,” Bergoglio told Argentina’s priests last year.
        . . .
        “In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don’t baptize the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage,” Bergoglio told his priests. “These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it’s baptized!”
        Bergoglio compared this concept of Catholicism, “this Church of ‘come inside so we make decisions and announcements between ourselves and those who don’t come in, don’t belong,” to the Pharisees of Christ’s time – people who congratulate themselves while condemning all others.
        This sort of pastoral work, aimed at capturing more souls and building the flock, was an essential skill for any religious leader in the modern era, said Bergoglio’s authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin.
        . . .
        “Is Bergoglio a progressive – a liberation theologist even? No. He’s no third-world priest. Does he criticize the International Monetary Fund, and neoliberalism? Yes. Does he spend a great deal of time in the slums? Yes,” Rubin said.
        Bergoglio has stood out for his austerity. Even after he became Argentina’s top church official in 2001, he never lived in the ornate church mansion where Pope John Paul II stayed when visiting the country, preferring a simple bed in a downtown building, heated by a small stove on frigid weekends. For years, he took public transportation around the city, and cooked his own meals

        Read more: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2013/03/13/francis_is_first_pope_from_the_americas_117431.html?fb_action_ids=4517587539111&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_source=timeline_og&action_object_map=%7B%224517587539111%22%3A227907997346886%7D&action_type_map=%7B%224517587539111%22%3A%22og.recommends%22%7D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D#ixzz2NSsEQkMc

      • It seems that Peter the Roman was denied his rightful seat.

        • cermak_rd says

          Ah, but Pope Francis is of Italian descent and everyone knows that St. Francis (all of them) held St. Peter in high regard, so I think there may still be a way to shoehorn reality into the prophecy.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Just keep checking with Martha to make sure Ireland is still above sea level.

            If you DO accept the validity of St Malachy’s list, who’s to say he didn’t get up to Benny 16, got interrupted, had to wrap it immediately, and skipped to the end? (Kind of like Coleridge’s “Kublai Khan”.) That would mean we just ran off the end of the list he wrote down, not the End of the World.

  8. A very minor point of order. In the Orthodox tradition, the iconographer is said to “write” the icon, rather than paint it. (Perhaps the video, which I can’t access where I am, says as much.) It’s a terminology that somehow separates what the iconographer is doing from what, e.g., Gaudi was up to in Barcelona — though I’d not want to push the point too far.

  9. Very timely! The Sunday post on doubt actually got me thinking about iconography, because of the painting posted with the article. That painting at first seems to portray Jesus realistically, which iconography is often criticized for being too other-worldly. But the body details are elongated and disproportionate, like an ancient Greek statues of Zeus. This would be consistent with the Greek revival of the renaissance. It would also be understandable for an artist to portray Christ’s divinity by using Greek methods. But some things never change: the media becomes the message, and Jesus becomes just another mythological being alongside the ancient Greek gods. Iconography is not a uniquely Christian art form, but it has very strict rules to prevent the media from taking over the message.

    • The rules are also there so that anyone familiar with them can read an icon properly, even if they are illiterate or don’t know the local language.

Speak Your Mind