The Iconography and Architecture
of St. Columba Orthodox Church
Iconography in the Western Rite
The Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Archdiocese has determined that
the appropriate form of iconography for Western Rite Churches is the Romanesque
Art of the Medieval Western Church. Just as there are specific canons or required
characteristics for Byzantine iconography, so there are set characteristics
for the Western Rite iconography based on the Romanesque style. Thus, it can
be seen that both Eastern Rite and Western Rite icons are never to be mere decoration,
never just attractive pictures. They are always deliberately “surreal”
reflecting the mystical world they represent. Some of the characteristics of
Western iconography based on Romanesque models include a certain simplicity
of line and color with bright colors predominating. This is especially true
in regard to images of Christ, which as the Ruler of the Cosmos, should always
predominate over the saints and angels. They often have a kind of primitive
quality, and (as are Byzantine icons, to which they are closely related) are
intended to provoke the viewer with a mystical challenge. Icons are “sacramentals”
that is they are a means of bringing the faithful into a deeper contact with
the Sacred, with God and His Saints. They help to define and consecrate the
sacred space of the church interior.
It is well documented that before the great schism the Western Church was fully
Orthodox. It is generally accepted that the Church in Britain remained Orthodox
until after the full effect of the Norman Conquest (mid to late 12th century).
The Romanesque style was the norm for art and architecture of the Orthodox West.
St. Columba is not a copy of a medieval church building, but rather is a modern
building built in the spirit if the Romanesque. Most obvious is the rounded
Romanesque arches that mark the building. Additionally, the roofline and general
proportions are that of the typical Romanesque Church.
In similar fashion, the iconography of St. Columba is modern but in the spirit
of Romanesque painting. Each image has been researched and, in so far as possible,
is based on medieval models. The iconography is largely influenced by the wall
paintings found in the Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Copford, England,
but other Churches play an influence as well. The reredos includes the following
Christ in Majesty
The icon or image of Christ in Majesty was more or less the standard image that
dominated the area above the altar in Christian Churches from the early Christian
era until the late Middle Ages. This image was found throughout the early Christian
world from the edges of Asia to the Western tip of Europe. The image is that
of the risen Christ “sitting on the right hand of power and coming in
the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:62) Images of God on His throne are
found in both the Old and the New Testament and served as inspiration for early
Christian artists. Often in early depictions Christ is shown seated on a rainbow,
a symbol of God’s power as ruler of the Cosmos. The image of God in Glory
surrounded by a rainbow is found in Ezekiel 1:28, and in Revelation 4:3. The
text of the book that Christ holds in his hand is taken from the Gospel of John,
chapter 8 verse 12. The text is in Latin, which was the language of the early
Western Church. The Latin text reads Ego sum lux mundi: qui sequitur me, non
ambulat in tenebris, sed habebit lumen vitae. The English translation is “I
am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness,
but shall have the light of life.” Overall, the image is a composite drawn
chiefly from the Romanesque images of Christ in Glory in the Church of Santa
Maria in Tahull, Spain, St. Michael and All angels in Copford, England, and
Torpo stave Church in Hallingdal Valley, Norway. The four angels are based on a similar reredos in St. Michaels Church in England which is one of the few churches with an intact medieval, painted reredos still in existence.
Lower Tier of Icons
St. Columba (521 – 597)
The center icon in the row of saints is St Columba shown standing in a typical
small boat of the era in which he lived. He is accompanied by two of his monks.
Typically, boats were made by stretching animal skins over a basic simple frame.
This painting is based on a stained-glass window in St. Margaret’s Chapel
at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.
Saints in order from the center to the right:
St. Hilda of Whitby (614 – 680)
St. Hilda was one of the major figures in the unification of the British Church.
She was Abbess of a double monastery (separate monasteries for men and women,
both under the authority of the Abbess) The Synod of Whitby held at her monastery
at Whitby led to the amalgamation of the Celtic and Latin traditions. There
are virtually no dependable images of Hilda available so there was no good prototype
for this painting. St. Hilda is shown in the most likely dress for an abbess
of the seventh century.
St. Benedict (480 – 550)
Founder of the Benedictine Order of Monks, St. Benedict is considered by some
the founder of Western monasticism. The Benedictine tradition was a rich part
of the development of the Church in the British Isles. Our Matins and Vespers
services are derived from this tradition. The icon is based on a painting originally
on a medieval rood screen, now in the Church of Great Plumstead, Norfolk, England.
St. Margaret of Scotland (1045 – 1093)
Married to Malcom III King of Scotland in 1070, she used her influence as Queen
for the good of religion and for the promotion of justice, having special concern
for the poor. The icon is based on a stained glass window in St. Margaret’s
chapel in Edinburgh Scotland.
St. Bede (c.673-735)
Given the special title of “Venerable” St. Bede was the preeminent
Biblical scholar and “Father of English History.” A monk of the
Benedictine monastery of Jarrow, his extensive writings are one among the most
important sources for knowledge of the history of the Church in England. This
icon is based on a 12th-century portrait of Bede currently in the library of
the British Museum in London.
Saints in order from the center to the left:
St. Alban Protomartyr of England (3rd century)
St. Alban is considered to be the first Christian martyr of Britain. He was
beheaded after having been found guilty of sheltering a Christian priest. This
image of Alban is based on a series of illustrations in Matthew of Paris’
(d.1259) Historia Anglorum.
St. Etheldreda ( - d 679)
Daughter of King Anna of East Anglia, she became a nun after twice being married.
She founded the first abbey at Ely in 673, where she served as Abbess of a double
monastery and lived a life of great simplicity and holiness. The icon is based
on a banner in Ely Cathedral, which in turn was based on medieval images.
St. Edward the Confessor (1003 – 1066)
Edward became King of England in 1042. He was considerate, just, gentle and
unselfish. His reign was one of peace, prosperity and good government. In commutation
of a vow to go on pilgrimage to Rome he rebuilt Westminster abbey, where he
is buried. The icon is based on a stained glass window in the Church of St.
Mary, Ross – on -- Wye, England.
St. Walburga ( c.710 -- 779)
Born into a noble Anglo-Saxon family, St. Walburga the icon is based in part
on a tapestry showing the life of St. Walburga woven in Nûrnberg about
1460, and a Gothic statue both of which are reproduced in Saint Walberga: Her
Life and Heritage published by St. Walburg Abbey, Eichstätt, Germany.
Icon of St. Columba
The life of St. Columba as seen in the icon:
Beginning at the lower left corner, reading clockwise
1) The birth of St. Columba. Before his birth an angel appeared to Colmuba's mother and showed her a great robe of wonderous colors showing all the flowers of the world indicating that the child she was to deliver would be a great leader of souls.
2) Columba as a young man. Columba was a pious and devout youth and at an early age showed his spiritual depth and was soon enrolled as a monk.
3) Columba as Abbot. Eventually Columba became the founder of several churches and monasteries in his native land of Ireland.
4) Columba and companions leave Ireland for Scotland. Columba and a small group of monks left Ireland and sailed to the Island of Iona where they built a monastery to serve as a base for the evangelization of Scotland.
5) Columba converts the Scottish King Dal Riada. In the year 574 the Scottish King came to Iona to receive chrismation at Columba's hands.
6) Columba purifies a poison well. There were many miracles performed by Columba. While travelling in the land of the Picts, he encountered a well that was held sacred by the Druids that would cause anyone who touched the waters to become afflicted with diseases such as leprosy. Columba purified the well and made the waters holy to the dismay of the Druid priests.
7) Columba calms the stormy seas. On one of his many sea travels Columba and his companions encountered a terrible storm which he calmed by prayer.
8) Columba confronts the Loch Ness Monster. While swimming in Loch Ness, one of Columba's companions was attacked by a monster. Columba rebuked the monster who fled and the swimmer was saved.
9) Columba's death. At the close of his life Columba knew his death was coming and prepared his monks for the event. On the day of his death, after attending Saturday Vespers he returned to his cell until the middle of the night when he suddenly returned to the Church. His monks gathered around him and he died there in the church, and his soul was transported to Heaven.