Beauty and Truth

At the beginning of Mass at Church of Our Lady of Lourdes yesterday, Bishop Lee Piche blessed a new icon of St. Joan of Arc, written for that church by the iconographer Nicholas Markell. Following Mass, Markell gave a wonderful talk on Art and Beauty in the Catholic Church.

One of the things Markell talked about was the need to appreciate the link between beauty and goodness. He cited Aquinas’ statement that truth, goodness and beauty are transcendentally one, and described beauty as a way we come to know truth and goodness, a way we come to know God. So beauty is not (as we often confuse it to be) glamor or prettiness or opulence or decoration. Rather, beauty is harmonious, radiant, whole and invites contemplation.

I found very illuminating his discussion of the characteristics of icons and how symbolism, anatomy, garments and nature are used to realize those characteristics. I can’t do an effective job of summarizing all the points he made, and I’m hoping there will be a podcast posted of his talk or his slides.

One of the things that stayed with me was the idea that the icon reveals a spiritual beauty linked to the glory of God and how God in his grace glorifies the person imaged in the icon. That is, the icon does not present a perfect, ideal of a person, but a glorified person – a person through whom God’s glory shines through. In that, the icon always points beyond the image, which linked to his brief discussion of praying with icons (something Markell has spoken about at Lourdes at greater length in the past.

Although it doesn’t do it justice, here is a picture of the icon:
2014-06-29 09.36.17

You can see some of Markell’s work on his website here.


5 thoughts on “Beauty and Truth

  1. Thank you for an inspiring synopsis, Susan. We will make a special trip to OLL to see it. But, I’m curious… Why Joan of Arc? She’s surely deserving and worthy of emulation. But, what’s the connection with OLL? Is it because she was French and had a special connection to Lourdes? Curious for more!

  2. Ah, beauty and truth. How wonderful. But I am as puzzled as Richard….
    Was the icon presented by a generous benefactor to the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes? Or perhaps there is another connection between Nicholas Markell and the old church. There is always more to the story.
    I do not need to know.
    Perhaps the icon’s illuminattion would be enthusiastically honored at the Church of St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis, named for this very young, outspoken, punished and controversial Saint.
    Perhaps not.

  3. Beautiful icon. I cherish the one I gave my mom 30 years ago which I bought at a Russian Church in my neighborhood. Empress Theodora is credited at getting the use of icons back into the church after they were banned.

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