Iconography: It's Not Just for the East Anymore Iconography: It's Not Just for the East Anymore

Long before Christians had Bibles, they had icons.  Their story-telling imagery educated the faithful for centuries.  Iconography has long been believed to be one of the ways that God reveals Himself within the Church.  Many ancient Christian churches used iconography as a form of liturgical art that assisted the believer's understanding of the Mass.  The religious images depicted in iconsvary from portraits of Christ and the Saints to biblical events.

Iconography as a religious art form is usually associated with Eastern Christianity, both the Eastern Catholic rites and the Eastern Orthodox. Eastern Christians have a tradition of venerating religious icons by using them as an occasion for prayer in much the same way that western Catholics use statues of Mary and the Saints.  Both are artistic expressions of the Faith that serve to inspire, teach, guide, and encourage the faithful in their quest towards spiritual perfection.

But icons are something special, because in addition to being beautiful religious art they're also packed with theological details.  In fact, the word 'iconography' literally means 'image writing'.  For example, some ancient religious icons depicted Jesus wearing a red tunic wrapped with a blue mantle.  The red symbolized His divine nature, while the blue symbolized how He clothed himself with a human nature.  Mary is often depicted in reverse; a blue tunic represents her human nature while a red mantle represents her divine role as the Mother of God.

With many hidden details that are so rich in meaning, iconography is a great tool for family catechesis just as it was for the early Christians.  The bright colors (blues, reds, and golds) and simple shapes are attractive for children and serve as a great tool to develop their Faith.

Many Catholics already know the benefits of decorating their homes with Catholic art that also teaches the Faith.  Holy images, religious statues, and other sacramentals are great reminders to pray or to offer up our routine tasks to God.  Why not include a throwback to the ancient Church? Talk about a conversation piece!

If you're afraid that the look of eastern religious art wouldn't exactly fit in with your decor, consider incorporating other items around it to balance it out.  Try dedicating one wall or corner where you use the icon as a feature piece that you can tie in to other religious items. For example, place candles and prayer books on a table or shelf near your icon.  Consider complementing the icon with an icon cross, such as the San Damiano Crucifix.  If you like this idea and want to get really fancy, try engaging the rest of your senses as well.  Display your most beautiful rosary and an incense burner next to your icon.  And, voila.... you've just created an interesting decorating piece in your home that doubles as a prayer corner.  Walk by, offer up a Hail Mary, light a candle, burn some incense . . . and start the laundry!

Copyright 2012 Gretchen Filz