After a long summer of freedom, "Back to School" signs smothered shop windows, sending a small shiver down my spine. September daylight glanced crisply across the horizon. New school mackintoshes, dangled sleeves with room to "grow", and colder days were on their way,
The busyness of the school year led us seamlessly into the season of Advent, marked by Carols sung at morning assemblies.
My convent school, ( since demolished - oh does admitting that make one feel old!) was a modern building. The chapel, sandwiched between school and convent, was quite devoid of ornament. A lone painted crucifix suspended over the altar, marked the separation of school and convent life.
The sisters were good women, who took good care of us girls. They instructed us dutifully in the receipt of holy communion in the hand. They strummed Guitars as a pupil or two fought for the chance to rattle a tambourine during services.
Innocently, I reasoned that the poor sisters could not afford a church organ. The high unemployment and power cuts of the 70's were all part of a society that couldn't afford "better stuff".
My working class family were used to "putting up" with temporary cheaper alternatives until Dad found work; we all hoped for better days when all would return to normal.
Now when my own children started school, I realised that the modern art I had once thought was cheap rubbish, was actually expensive rubbish. The guitars and tambourines had been an "alternative choice" rather than a prudent one, Thusly, a mini reformation took place in my lifetime.
Even though the church has changed a lot since I was at school, the Christmas Nativity scene is a staple of the Church's year. People on the edges of the faith, will draw near to the church at Christmas time.
If the building block of society is the family, we need to draw it closer to the Holy family of the crib. its a reason to keep the statues looking as good as the virtues they teach.
Link: Why good Catholic art is a gift for our children.
With a short deadline to meet, I worked quickly with the team, exchanging ideas and layouts for the figures, legends and symbols they elicited.My sketches had all been completed and approved, and I was on the starting blocks, (so to speak) with paintbrush in hand, motivated and eager to make a start.
However, when there was a sudden change of plan… I was informed that the icons were now to resemble something closer to photographic portraits.
Although the new September term was looming, I adjusted figures, recalling Abraham Lincoln's warning the dangers of "changing horses’ midstream..." And although sudden changes of plan can be unsettling, I have come to accept that it is usually part of God’s plan.
Creating contemporary icons of saints has its problems. There are many pre-conceptions about what an Icon is and what painting methods should be used. I feel the main ingredients are prayer and inspiration, yet I had been troubled by depicting St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) in casual clothing rather than her in Carmelite habit. However, one morning before mass, I imagined her holding up the brown scapular. (In this way, she would still be wearing the carmelite habit). This is something the school children may never have encountered had she been portrayed in her full Carmelite habit.
After this I found myself able to jump the hurdles set before me like a Grand National equine; obstacles were overcome and the icons completed with a few days to spare!
I hope the children will learn not only about the life of St. Teresa Benedicta, as a victim of the holocaust, but also of that important event in their English Catholic heritage; when the Blessed Virgin favoured St. Simon Stock with the brown scapular of Carmel.
"St. Simon was an Englishman, a man of great holiness and devotion, who always in his prayers asked the Virgin to favour his Order with some singular privilege. The Virgin appeared to him holding the Scapular in her hand. In its original context, the meaning of this promise was that Carmelite religious who persevered in their vocation would be saved. Beginning in the 16th century, the Carmelites began giving the brown scapular to lay people who wanted to be affiliated with the Order, and it became increasingly popular as a religious article.
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