Tag Archives: Religious art

St. Anthony’s Monastery, Part 2: The Iconography

St. Anthony’s Monastery, Part 2: The Iconography

One of the highlights of the trip to St. Anthony’s Monastery is the many icons displayed in the church and the chapels. They were brought over from Greece. Some of them look to me like hand-painted originals, others like fine art reproductions, though I don’t know for sure. I don’t remember in which buildings most of these icons were located.

I’ve written about icons before, but I’ve never been where so many are displayed in one place. I’m fascinated by this Greek and Eastern Orthodox art form honoring Jesus, the saints, and the patriarchs. I hesitate to identify most of the images below, because I’d just be guessing. I am not knowledgeable about the symbolism, and I don’t read Greek, so I can’t decipher the writing on the icons.


In many of the icons, the thumb of the right hand (or both hands) touches the tip of the ring finger. I wonder what the significance of that is.


The picture below reminds me very much of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.




Look at the eyes in the cup below.



Is it just me, or are a lot of the faces below the same?









Lovely mosaic:


The icon below is also a mosaic. I’m pretty sure this is St. George. He’s defeating the dragon. And it’s located just outside the St. George Chapel.


The next three pictures are closeups of St. George so you can see the details. Amazing craftsmanship.




The following two mosaic angels are on the exterior of the St. George Chapel.



I love the Madonna and Child below. Any parent will recognize the backward arching of the infant.


I took another picture at an angle, because I wanted to get the Mother’s sweet face without the hanging candle holder right in front of it. Unfortunately, the angle caused a distortion that makes the Baby look all wonky.







This magnificent painted crucifix is in St. Seraphim’s Chapel.


This icon is also in St. Seraphim’s Chapel. Could it be Seraphim himself? Isn’t it interesting that there are notes stuck behind the picture? Could they be prayer requests?


I’ve also posted articles about some doors and the architecture at St. Anthony’s Monastery. I’m planning to post another article on Saturday showing photos of the Monastery gardens.

Guido Reni, Sacred Painter

Guido Reni, Sacred Painter

Since childhood I have loved Christian art, no doubt due to my Roman Catholic upbringing. One of my favorite artists is Guido Reni (November 4, 1575—August 18, 1642), an Italian painter of the baroque period, who painted primarily religious themes.

When I was a girl, everyone brought a missal with them to church on Sunday. This missal was a Mass book, and contained the liturgy, plus all the gospel and Old and New Testament readings for every day of the year. It had ribbon markers for holding your places, but many people also collected holy cards as additional markers.

A holy card was a rectangular bookmark that had a religious image on one side and a prayer on the other. I believe some of my holy cards had works by Guido Reni on them.

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St. Michael Archangel

Reni’s life was marked with drama that gave rise to legends about him. For example, in the painting St. Michael Archangel, Satan reportedly bears a resemblance to a cardinal (church official) whom Reni held a grudge against.


St. Joseph and the Christ Child

Reni received some important commissions in Rome to paint frescos in the Chapel of Santa Maria Maggiore and the Vatican. He was also given an assignment to paint the papal Chapel of the Annunciation, but because of a dispute about payment he left Rome and the job defaulted to another artist.

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David with the Head of Goliath

In 1618, Reni traveled to Naples to paint a ceiling in a chapel of the cathedral of San Gennaro. However, the prominent local painters loathed competitors, and supposedly conspired to poison or otherwise harm him. Reni abandoned Naples as soon as he could.


St. Cecilia

I’ve always had a special affinity for St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Cecilia was my mother-in-law’s middle name, and we passed it on to our youngest daughter as her middle name.

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Jesus Christ with the Cross


The Baptism of Christ


St. Matthew and the Angel

St. Matthew is the author of the gospel that bears his name, inspired by God. Perhaps God sent him an angel to tell him what to record.


Saint James the Greater

St. James the Greater was one of the sons of Zebedee; his brother’s name was John. He is commonly called “the Greater” to distinguish him from two other Jameses in the Bible.



Seeing God in a Window

Seeing God in a Window

Stained glass can do three things: beautify buildings, control light, and tell a story.

Well-to-do Romans were first to use colored glass windows–in their homes, back in the first century AD. Early examples of stained glass windows can also be found in some of the palaces and mosques in the Middle East. In Jarrow, England, at St. Paul’s Monastery, pieces of a stained glass window dating from 686 AD were found.

Chilham, Kent UK, Chancel window, Passion of Christ with scenes from Old Testament

Chancel window from church in Chilham, Kent, UK, Passion of Christ with scenes from Old Testament.

Traditionally, to make stained glass, artisans mix potash and sand and heat it to approximately 3000 degrees Fahrenheit, adding various metallic oxide powders to create different colors. The glass is then flattened into sheets while still pliable. The artists create a blueprint, or cartoon, of the design on a large board. The sheets of glass are laid on top of the blueprint and cut into the approximate sizes needed. (In the olden days, details were painted onto the stained glass windows with a special paint made from ground glass and iron filings suspended in urine or wine; this mixture helped block light and define designs.) The finished pieces of glass are fitted into C- or H-shaped strips of lead called cames. The cames are soldered together to create panels, which are then put into an iron armature, completing the window and readying it for installation.


Cross section diagram of stained glass (3) joined by lead cames (1 and 2). Illustration by Rickpelleg*.

The stained glass windows so familiar today did not come about until the 10th century, with the construction of Gothic cathedrals. The earliest known stained glass pictoral is a portrait of Christ from the 10th century, discovered at the Lorsch Abbey in Germany. The oldest complete stained glass windows were those of Augsburg Cathedral in Germany, constructed in the late 11th century.

St Michael the Archangel by Lawrence OP, Buckland

St. Michael the Archangel, from the church of St. Mary the Virgin, Buckland, Oxfordshire. Photo by Lawrence OP.

The Roman Catholic Church funded most of the stained glass windows of the time. Abbot Suger of Saint Denis was a famous patron of stained glass art and lived just outside of Paris. He used the wealth of his abbey to make windows larger and more beautiful, because he considered light the manifestation of God himself:

…God is light: in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1: 5b NIV).

One of the most important advancements in Gothic architecture was the development and use of the flying buttress, which served as an arched exterior support that could transfer the excess weight of a building outward. This allowed an increase in window size as well as more wall space to be occupied by windows.


“Poor Man’s Bible” window, Canterbury Cathedral

The windows made during medieval times were mostly religious in theme and served to tell Biblical stories to lay people who could not read, as well as beautifying the churches. The windows probably had a more profound impact on the people than the sermons themselves. Portraits of saints depicted in the windows used symbols to convey details about their lives and deaths. Gothic windows were generally tall and spear-, wheel-, or rose-shaped. A good example of Gothic stained glass windows are those of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which holds one of the largest rose-shaped windows in the world.

Notre Dame Rose Window

Rose Window of Notre Dame

The primary subjects of Renaissance windows were still Biblical, but the figures are dressed in Renaissance-style clothing. The scenes still feature symbolic imagery, perhaps even more so than in the Gothic period. At this time, even non-religious scenes were included in church windows. Stained glass was used in buildings like town halls and wealthy homes, although the panels of homes were small and usually just painted on. The use of linear perspective is seen in activity taking place in the background, while primary activity occurs in the foreground. Due to the humanist movement of the Renaissance, faces display more emotion than in older specimens.

St. Ignatius of Loyola

St. Ignatius of Loyola

Between the Renaissance and the mid-19th century stained glass windows fell from favor. This was largely due to changes within religious norms of the time – the church had been the supporter of the arts, and the new Protestants did not believe in fancy art work and decoration in church buildings. By 1640, stained glass was rare and only small panels featuring heraldry were used for homes and city halls. The English Parliament demanded all images of the Virgin Mary and the Trinity be removed from churches, so many stained glass windows were smashed by fanatic vandals. The destruction only stopped because it was too costly to replace the windows. Stained glass window making became a lost art.

First Lutheran Church Washburn, North Dakota

The Good Shepherd, or Finding the Sheep that was Lost, First Lutheran Church, Washburn, North Dakota.

Today, some churches, synagogues, and mosques are still constructed with stained glass windows, though many Protestant denominations eschew them. The windows of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Marc Chagall, and Frank Lloyd Wright are fine examples of modern stained glass windows.

Embed from Getty Images

Our Lady of Strasbourg Cathedral, Crucifixion of Christ

This video about the history of stained glass shows the fragment of the Jarrow window mentioned above and the role of artists in Brooklyn, NY. Also, a window maker is shown breaking glass into the required shape.

Take a tour of the beautiful windows at Gower Street United Church, St. John’s, Newfoundland:

The information in this article came from two articles online, “The History of Stained Glass Windows” and “The Development of Stained Glass in Gothic Cathedrals.” To learn more about the process of making stained glass, see this wonderful article from Khan Academy, which includes photographs.

*Lead cames illustration by Rickpelleg, shared under Creative Commons license 2.5.