Icons - a path to Contemplation, part 4
Our sisters have shared with you their path to contemplation in their writing of the beautiful icon of the Transfiguration. Their path started with prototypes of Greek and Russian origins, and I also experienced the enrichment of writing from these schools of iconography. But for this icon, I had no prototype, only History, though a glorious history of one of our brave Irish martyrs of the seventeenth century: Fr. Thaddeus, or Tadhg, Moriarty,( 1603 –1653) prior of Holy Cross Dominican Church in Tralee, Co. Kerry.
My path to contemplation needed to reach out to Our Lord’s Inspiration, to be taken back into a time of suppression, of cruelty, to realise the bravery of Fr. Tadhg. I remember going to sleep one night, during the time I was drawing the icon figure, praying that it would not take so long for Fr. Tadhg to be listed among the Blesseds.
I had then such a vivid dream: a Dominican against a bright, bright blue sky, his hair was dark and his eyes so blue… the same blue as the sky behind him. I took this to be a sign that Fr. Tadhg was truly in Heaven, although not yet beatified. Because of this, as you can see, I had to paint the halo as a broken circle.
Fr. Ambrose O’ Farrell O.P., the then Prior of Holy Cross Church, Tralee, commissioned us to write the icon for his church, as a sequence to the celebration of the Year of the Eucharist. Fr. Tadhg was celebrating the Holy Eucharist on a rock in Keelaclohane Wood, when he was arrested by the Cromwellian soldiers. The chalice in the icon is copied from a photo of the Moriarty Chalice, which Fr. Tadhg used at his last Mass. This chalice is kept in the local museum and used on special occasions.
The wood where Fr. Tadhg used to teach seminarians secretly, was often a place of my contemplation. Contemplating the nature and beauty of such a place, I came to realise the fear of those who stood around the Mass Rock, for they might, at any time, lose their priest. I thought also, how on cold days, the seminarians would sit close together to keep warm and how quickly the precious books would be closed when the showers of rain came.
In my first drawing, I planned a woodland scene behind the figure, but our icon tutor, Lucho, said that the background must be completely heavenly. So, I enclosed the two scenes in medallions.
It was a privilege to write this icon. It brought me on a path to contemplation that was very enriching. Encountering difficulties in my work on the icon, especially in laying on the gold-leaf, made me empathise with the suffering of the Martyrs and how we must match our struggles in life with theirs, to bear witness to our Faith and deepen our prayer.
Monastery of St Catherine of Siena
Charities Registration No: 20010300