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Franciscan Icon Retreat

Constantina Wood, icon writer and artist, led a retreat at Willen this summer.

Constantina is the artist who wrote the beautiful icon that we have at The Well, showing Jesus with the Samaritan Woman at the well, as narrated in St John’s Gospel.

The Franciscan Icon Retreat, held this summer at the Well, was a new experience for me. I chose to write an icon of St Clare of Assisi, one of my favourite saints.

The retreat was led by Constantina Wood, who instructed us to embrace being childlike and imperfect for best results.

Constantina had the ambience of the room both calming and spiritual, with choir music playing gently in the background.

Prayer and work

The programme for the week was of prayer and work, with the two nicely balanced, showing how being prayerful during creativity can produce good work.

Icons are symbolic

The process of iconography is symbolic. It is like an emotional roller coaster, using the method of ‘flooding’.

So – just when you see the icon taking shape – it is flooded with a watery layer of paint. This is intended to bring out layers of colour and light, but at the time it is applied, it is like a leap of faith.

It symbolises blotting out mistakes and starting again, reminding us that it is always possible to renew and restore. It symbolises starting again.

The background of the icon represents the Old Testament, and the icon itself represents the New Testament. A red border symbolises the fiery love coming up from the Lord, and the gold halo around the icon’s head is a symbol of heaven.

Gold represents uncreated light, light before creation, light in heaven.

Eliminating the chaos

Chaos is the word used in iconography for when the icon is looking a bit nondescript and far from artistic, in other words when it looks a mess.

But then, with patience and determination, it smoothes out and makes sense.

A pilgrimage

Hence, icon writing is compared to the journey of life. ‘A good foundation is built on years of chaos’, was one of Constantina’s many encouraging phrases, and then – as the chaos settles and fixes – a restoration appears, a new life, a new beginning covering and eliminating the chaos, to reveal a beautiful ending.

Constantina has a patient and gentle manner and, during the week, when we would have times of feeling tired or disconcerted towards our work, she had a good way of picking us back up and, with her artistic skills, there was always help at hand if disaster struck.

This might be ‘disaster’ in the participants’ eyes, but just a minor blip to Constantina, who would assist in making the necessary correction to bring the icon back.

Watching the creation of the icon through these processes was more like a pilgrimage than a retreat.

As I travelled through different stages, seeing different sights and feeling different emotions, arriving at the end was an achievement and to be on pilgrimage with St Clare an honor.

At the end of the week, on completion, the icons were blessed at Midday Office at the Well.

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