St Benedict the Bridge Builder  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The image to the left is the fruit of my first (and quite possibly last) foray into icon-production. It was done during 2004 as part of the Lenten series held at Trinity Episcopal church in Santa Barbara, California. I'm a member of Trinity and the workshop was led by Colleen Sterne, who has since been ordained a priest. About tow dozen or more people made icons which were then placed in a corner of the church and blessed during Easter Vigil. They remained there until Pentecost Sunday.

An already-existing icon of St Benedict was computer-scanned by my wife. This yielded a large image which I taped to a piece of particle board with carbon paper underneath. I then traced the image onto the board and colored it with acrylic paint. I customized the final design by superimposing a Canterbury cross (which conveniently appeared at that time on the cover of Forward Movement) and an open book snitched from a Christos Pantocrator icon in an Orthodox church supply catalog.

If you are even remotely familiar with the canons of Orthodox iconography, you will probably be screaming "fake!" or at least "inauthentic!" at this point. The techinical execution of the piece also leaves something to be desired. I freely acknowledge all these sins. However, the icon does manage to visually express the convergence of several strands of my personal spirituality, a convergence that has been brewing for many years.

Benedict has always been accepted as a saint by the Eastern churches, since he lived and wrote long before the split between the Eastern and Western churches in 1054. A number of (much better) icons of St Benedict exist and can be found on the internet. In 985 a Benedictine monastery was founded on Mt Athos, the very heartland of Orthodox monasticism, by Italian monks from Amalfi. At that time Amalfi was a major economic power in the eastern Mediterranean, engaged in much trade with the Byzantine empire. The monastery lasted until 1287, almost miraculously surviving both the Great Schism and the sacking of Constantinople by the crusaders in 1204.

Closer to home, at least spiritually, the influence of Benedictine monasticism on the medieval English church was vast, beginning with Augustine of Canterbury. About half of the English cathedrals were also monastic abbeys, and a great many bishops and archbishops were monks. This influence did not die with the break with Rome, since Cranmer's first Book of Common Prayer is in many respects a condensation of the monastic offices outlined in the Rule of Benedict into the services of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. The Oxford Movement of the 19th century opened the door for the reappropriation of many other aspects of Benedictine spirituality, a process that continues unabated in the Anglican Communion today.

All this is suggested graphically in the icon. Benedict wears an Orthodox monastic habit. In his right hand he holds a Canterbury cross, an ancient symbol of English Christianity. His left hand holds a copy of his monastic Rule, opened to the first word of the Latin text: obsculta, which means "listen."

This entry was posted on Sunday, August 12, 2007 at Sunday, August 12, 2007 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Post a Comment