The Icon of St. Columbanus
The Icon writer at work

This icon of Saint Columbanus was written to celebrate the Centenary of the formation of The Order of the Knights of Saint Columbanus by James K. Canon O’Neill in 1915 and to commemorate the passing of 1400 years since the death of the saint on 21st November 615.

The saint is portrayed as a contemplative monk setting out with twelve confreres from Bangor in Ireland on his missionary journey over modern Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. A white dove, Columban, the symbol of peace, sits calmly at the feet of the saint. In his right hand, he holds a staff in the form of a cross, as a sign of his missionary vision and a symbol of his authority.

He wears a stole over his shoulders to represent his priestly office which is also draped over his left arm as a protective garment under the heavily adorned and precious Bible or Book of the Gospels. The adornment conveys the richness of the contents. The white quill heralds his extensive scholarship and writings including his Monastic Rule, challenging correspondence with Popes and rulers and inspiring poetry. In this icon, the saint stands on a green coloured plane which symbolises both the land where he was born, Ireland, and the lands which he travelled over on his missionary journey. It also reminds us that he now walks in the heavenly garden of Paradise surrounded by the golden radiance of heaven.

With the red wine vinegar and water, we recall that both blood and water flowed from the side of Jesus when his side was pierced on the cross. The proportions remind us of the three persons in the Holy Trinity, and of the dual nature of Christ, both human and divine. The darker base colours were applied first with the lighter colours on top to remind us that we move from dark to light, sadness to joy, sinfulness to holiness. The final white lines symbolise the uncreated Light of God, the light of goodness that shines through the saints.

The Icon writer at workplaster. The image was painted, or more properly “written”, using earth colours mixed in egg yolk, red wine vinegar and water. The wood and gesso remind us of the cross on which our Saviour died. The linen reminds us of the shroud in which the crucified Christ was wrapped. The egg is a symbol of the resurrection and new life in Christ through baptism.