Friday, February 13, 2009

St. Ignatius and Contemporary Iconography: Ignatius in Rome

Panel 5 of 5: Ignatius in Rome

During my past few posts, I had been quoting the prayer cards that I have of the icons at St. Ignatius Chapel at Seattle University.  Although there were a number of differences between the ones at SU and the ones in the novitiate, the essence of the art is the same.  However, this 5th icon is strikingly dissimilar to the one at SU, and I felt that the quote that described SU's icon does not really capture what is going on in this new icon.  

On the icon at SU, Ignatius is shown writing the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. He sits alone in his room in contemplative thought, amidst books and letters.  An image of the Virgin Mary is in the background, with only 2 other people walking down an alleyway. Certainly, to write a robust document like the Constitutions, Ignatius would have needed that quiet solitude.  

Yet, as we see here in the icon at the Oregon novitiate, Bittau's depiction of Ignatius is completely different. Instead of being withdrawn in Rome, Ignatius is flooded by people reaching out to him. He is in priestly garb, preaching to the people and administering to them while the light of Christ overlooks all. His arms not only are in a giving posture to the people but also are open to receiving the graces of God poured down, inviting the people to do the same.  

Indeed, Ignatius was quite active in the works he began in Rome, and I think Bittau is right to highlight that in this icon. For example, he aided the people in the winter of 1538 during a harsh famine, helped those who were poor, sick, and crippled, established a work "The House of St. Martha" to help prostitutes and "The Association of Downtrodden Young Women" for those in danger.  

Throughout the 5 icons, Bittau gives equal weight not only to Ignatius' life of prayer following his conversion, but also his life of ministry.  It is this fusion that gives Jesuits our charism. 

Well, this ends my week-long glimpse at the life of St. Ignatius through the iconography of Dora Bittau.  I have found my own prayer life enriched in being able to look again upon these icons and to contemplate the life that he led. And, as with any art, you may see things that I did not catch, or you may even find something in the future that had not caught your eye in the past. Definitely, there are much more to these icons that I have written about. I hope this week at least has given you a glimpse into the life of a man that inspires so many works today. And, perhaps, it has offered you a way in which you can pray with art. 

"O Spirit of God, we ask you to help orient
all our actions by your inspirations,
carry them on by your gracious assistance,
that every prayer and work of ours
may always begin from you
and through you be happily ended."


Regina Higgins said...

Thanks so much for sharing these evocative images of St. Ignatius and your responses to them. Art is such a great conduit to the spirit in all sorts of ways! Thanks for continuing my Jesuit education!


Ryan Rallanka, SJ said...

Thanks so much for your kind response. It was my pleasure to share them.