Every Catholic home should contain sacred art. My wife and I are just starting to collect items and at the centre of our collection, and at the centre of our hearth, we’ve placed a beautiful icon that we purchased at…a Greek Orthodox Church.
Every summer in South Bend there’s a Greek festival at the local Orthodox church. There’s great food, traditional music and dancing, tours of the church, and of course, lots of baklava. This year we purchased a censer which can also be seen in the picture. And if anyone knows how to use it properly (and I mean, practically speaking – is the charcoal supposed to burn the incense?), please let me know.
But one of the interesting things about the icon is Mary’s red garments. The icon is an image of the Theotokos (Mater Dei, Mother of God). As discussed in a previous post, the colour most commonly associated with the Blessed Mother in Catholic art is blue. In addition to the previous examples cited, the image of Our Lady of Czeschowa is a prime example (although this image is outside of Western art tradition – it was purportedly painted by St. Luke, and is very much in the Eastern tradition of icons).
In Greek icon writing, the colour red is associated with humanity (through its connection with blood). Blue is associated with Heaven or the Kingdom of God. On a side note, Catholic art also shares some of these associations, but generally uses them in different ways. In the Orthodox icon above, Mary’s outer garments are red, and her inner garment is blue. The red indicates that she is of human origin, and blue indicates her heavenly nature. The art of icon writing is prevalent in the Eastern Catholic churches as well, so I think it’s a beautiful tradition that Roman Rite Catholics should understand better (including myself!).
And one final side note, if you ever have the opportunity to attend a Divine Liturgy at St. Michael’s Byzantine Catholic Church in South Bend – do so. Most of the church is covered in beautiful icons, and as many of us rediscover our western traditions, it’s important to see how the Eastern Catholic churches have preserved many of theirs.
N.B. I’m using Eastern and Western somewhat loosely here – of course Greek art and icons are in the Western Art tradition, but are outside the Medieval and Renaissance Roman Rite traditions so to speak. Even that isn’t an exact distinction, since the Byzantine style was emulated in the Roman art tradition as well. Hopefully, my distinctions, while not precise, are understandable.