Ignatian Icon by Kathy Sievers
About a week ago, a good friend of mine sent me the following message:
When you have a moment, can you... translate this beautiful icon for me? You may or may not know we are in the Ignatian Year commemorating the 500th year of Saint Ignatius’ conversion.
So, fun fact... I did NOT know that the Ignatians were celebrating such a big anniversary! Now I do, so thanks, Rod! Happy anniversary to any Ignatians who stumble through this blog.
As for the icon- WOW. There is so much about this icon that I love that I hardly know where to begin. The name of this icon (as seen on the reverse of the prayer leaflet) is the Missioning of Xavier. It was written by iconographer Kathy Sievers who clearly knows a thing or two about traditional iconography.
To give you some context, this icon depicts the moment St. Ignatius sends his good friend, St. Francis Xavier, on an evangelization mission that would take him to India, China, Japan, Malaysia, and even Sri Lanka! As my friend, Rod, would later point out, he was second only to St. Paul in his missionary endeavors!
As this icon is about St. Francis, we'll begin with him as our focal point:
He is seated in a boat and is focused intently on the directive being offered to him by Ignatius. The directive, familiar to any Ignatian (or old school Catholic who had to write "AMDG" atop their homework), is "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam," meaning "For the Greater Glory of God." Being so focused on this directive while grasping it in his left hand indicates that Francis accepted this mission both in thought and action.
Rather than coloring his robes strictly black (which, in iconography, indicates death/evil), she chose a very specific blend of colors. However, before I can discuss the colors of his robe, I must explain the boat dear Francis finds himself in.
Early in Christian art, the Church was symbolized by a boat (the Barque of St. Peter). That tradition is happily kept alive in this icon. The mast is a Latin Cross and its white sail (indicating purity) is tied at seven distinct points (5 visible and 2 hidden by Ignatius). These seven points are, in fact, the Seven Sacraments that the Church inevitably brings with Her wherever She goes. The gold band encircling the edge of the sail (like a wedding ring!) is reminscent of white chasubles edged in gold for special feasts. The boat, itself, is painted with notes of deep red and gold. Red is the color of the Holy Spirit (fire) and blood (sacrifice). Gold indicates divinity (or sanctity which is why halos are gold). The red and gold from the boat seep into Francis' cassock which is highlighted in blue, the color of Our Lady.
[Fun fact: Ignatians were known to tie blue sashes around their waists for special missions or Marian Feasts ala knights who tied the kerchief of a lover to their armor as they rode into battle. Ignatians were deeply devoted to Our Lady, so seeing hints of blue in Francis' cassock is an homage to being under her protection (similar to how those who wear the Scapular are considered under Mary's special protection).]
Thus, we see in Francis' cassock all these colors combined and it's almost as if Francis and the boat (Church) are one. Gah - I just love it!
Moving on to Ignatius, you'll see that he, too, doesn't have a strictly black cassock because in iconography, black is the color of evil/death. To skirt this, a very deep blue is used with white highlights, hinting at Ignatius' purity. He is standing above Francis, indicating the clear hierarchy between them. His hand is raised in blessing while he entrusts the mission to his dear friend. All around them is a dazzling gold that almost shines through the computer screen (I can only imagine how gorgeous it must be in person). The gold symbolizes God's Divine blessing over the men, the mission, and the Church.
Finally, there's a little stack of rocks in the bottom righthand corner, just behind Ignatius. Believe it or not, this little rocky structure is my favorite part of the entire icon!
In order to get to the boat, both men had to come "down the mountain" so to speak.
Both are brilliant, lofty saints who could have easily continued to strive for God "in the clouds" (meaning all philosophy). Ignatians, though, aren't known for being strictly philosophers, though, are they?
No. They're known for coming "down the mountain" to be among those most in need of help. While spirituality is very much central to the Ignatian order, recognizing God's Presence in all things necessitates going out to meet Him where He is. The hint of rocks to the right is a subtle reminder of that.
What a brilliant, inspired touch! I love it so very much!
So Happy 500th Anniversary, St. Ignatius! I'm sure all the Jesuits who have followed after you these last few centuries appreciate your change of heart!
And to Rod, as always, thanks for sharing these bits of Sacred Art with me!
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