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Jerusalem Icon of the Mother of God
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her children beneath her wings, and you were not willing.”
This passage is especially poignant for me as Jesus speaks, not as a spurned general or ruler, but as a Mother, to this incredibly powerful, and magnificent city.
There are several images of God as Mother in Scripture. Also notably in the “Showings of Lady Julian of Norwich.” For me, the power of Art has always been at times, almost overwhelming. So I began as a child to draw and color the ancient images, symbols, such as the Spirit dove and tongues of Fire, the Lamb, the Star of David, the different symbols of the Sacraments, I saw in the windows and statues in my hometown of Denver. They were of Jesus and Mary , as well as saints of the Church who all had their own symbols. I learned them all just by looking. I slowly became aware one of my vocations was to give them back, through art, so they wouldn’t get lost because they are so powerful and draw you into a prayer. There are two images of Jesus as Mother which in my “illustration life,” before I became an iconographer, I really loved to illustrate. One is the mosaic of Jesus as the Mother Hen, surrounded by her chicks, which is in the Dominus Flevit Church, and the other is the ancient legend of Jesus Mother Pelican, which I’ve used at least three times in Icons. The first in Padre Pio, then Francisco Xavier, and finally (after Beato Fra Angelico) at the top of The Holy Cross of the New Advent .
Through the kindness of Mr Rob Lively, I was able to go on one of my dear friend Fr Jim Martin, SJ’s pilgrimages to the Holy Land. I left Alburquerque on Ash Wednesday, February 26, and returned on St Aloysius’s birthday, March 9.
As one of 100 pilgrims, there is so much to say. Each one of us found different places to be alive with inspiration. I’d like to write about each one but this piece is about an icon we saw everywhere in Jerusalem . As we walked through the city streets, there were vendors selling all kinds of things, and in almost every store was a poster, plaque, refrigerator magnet, or actual reproduction of Our Lady of Jerusalem. There are actually two different icons of Her and the Holy Child. I chose the one we saw most often, and was commissioned by Doctor Michael Lucey and his wife, Doctor Patricia Lucey while we were on the pilgrimage. The actual prototype (original) is covered with a silver colored metal riza (Russian for robe) or an oklad (Russian for covering).
When a riza is on an icon, it’s covering everything except the faces and hands. It’s meant to protect the painting from the smoke of the hanging oil lamps, lampadas , or candles which are often seen all around very revered icons. How was I going to turn metal into paint ? I chose to use a gray-blue for the under painting rather than simply gray. I loved the tenderness and love in Mary’s face and the bright light of the Holy Child holding, as Christ the little king, the orb of the world. This icon I painted (wrote) almost right after I got home. I actually had to finish a 7ft Corpus of Jesus for a 13ft Cross, I’ve named “The Cross of 2020” before I could begin Our Lady of Jerusalem. I hope the pilgrims see this as my gift to each one. And it was a natural way to pray through this time of illness, bravery, quarantine .... and awful awareness of racism, I call again, the Cross of 2020.
My use of Blessed Mother comes from my Mom who always called Mary by this name only...
Dear Blessed Mother Our Lady of Jerusalem,
You the joy of Israel,
You the glory of Jerusalem,
You, the great honor of your people,
You are Seeker After the Lost,
You are Mother of God Similar to Fire,
You are Mother of God Quick to Hear,
You are Our Lady of Perpetual Help...Mystical Rose, Enclosed Garden...
You are the Lady of Kazan, Vladimir, Guadalupe, Montserrat, Lourdes, Mt Carmel, Fatima, Knock, Palestine, Akita, Kibeho In Rwanda, Medjugorje, and a thousand other places.
You come as the people need to see you, in every race, in every country.
However we see you, it is you , Mary the Mother of God we love and trust.
O most compassionate Blessed Mother,
Continue to bring us closer to your Son Jesus, Holy Wisdom.
Intercede for us, especially now, and at the hour of our death.
Fr William Hart McNichols * June 2020