After an interview process of several artists, much discernment, and prayer, St. Thomas Aquinas has commissioned Kathy Sievers, an iconographer, to create a crucifix for our worship space. Kathy spent a significant amount of time here at St. Thomas, talking with parishioners and understanding the character of the worship space. Her thoughtful and prayerful concepts for our crucifix reflect that. The crucifix will be a centering element in the church and will focus attention upon Christ’s saving death and resurrection, and on the Eucharist. During the creation process, Kathy will communicate more information about the theology, spirituality, and technique of the icon to help us better understand the tradition and depth of meaning of this art form and in the particular symbols and imagery brought together for our worship space. We are fortunate to work with a deeply spiritual and gifted artist for this wonderful liturgical art undertaking for our parish community.
The Artist's Work
Dear STA Community,
During my visit I was able to experience the Holy Spirit alive in your community, God's kingdom on earth today. I am grateful for your having entrusted me to write an icon that nourishes this same Spirit.
My vision is for a crucifix that can be seen from a distance, that will center the attention of parishioners upon Christ's saving death and resurrection and on the Eucharist, and will unify the community. A brief explanation of the steps follow. Every step begins with prayer. I pray before each work session, asking for Divine guidance and aid, and that I may serve the St. Thomas Aquinas Community with all the gifts at my disposal.
I will use light-weight marine plywood mounted over light-weight poplar for structural support, built almost like a hollow core door. Once the construction is complete, I apply at least eight coats of gesso on every surface. Then I sand the surface to prepare it for painting.
The same image will appear on the front and back of the icon so that the worshipping community remains one body. I use dry pigments made of earth, minerals, ground stones, and some synthetics. As the crucifix is larger than a single sheet of wood, there will beseams in the gesso which would be prone to cracking if true gesso were used.Rather than risk cracking invulnerable areas,I will use the same dry pigments (as in the Mother of God icon) with an acrylic binder. I paint in the same transparent manner as true egg tempera, but the result is far more durable.
During the duration of the project, I will communicate regularly with the parish, sharing information about the theology, spirituality, and technique of the icon. This will gradually introduce the parish to a greater understanding of the icon over time, as well as help the community welcome the icon home upon its completion. I will provide whatever methods the parish would desire, such as photos with brief explanations, or a PDF document for inclusion in the bulletin or parish web site. I may also send a few short videos.
I welcome questions from parishioners. If any community members travel out West to Oregon (Portland metropolitan area), I would enjoy hosting a visit to my studio so they may view the project in process.
When the painting and gold leafing are complete, I then apply varnish. Any wood trim would be added at this stage.
–– Kathy Sievers
St. Elizabeth the Wonderworker Iconography Studio
It is our plan that installation will take place in October 2017.
About the St. Thomas Aquinas Crucifix
Christ died on the cross, but he was not alone. His mother and others were there. They watched in sadness and horror at what humans can inflict on an innocent in the name of power, ego, or religion—which unfortunately continues to this day. We, too, look at Christ in his vulnerability and agony, aware of the sins we have committed. We know that Christ willingly gave himself for us. His sacrifice destroyed death forever and opened the gates of heaven to us. For this reason the cross, originally a symbol of suffering, has been transformed into the symbol of triumph and we call Christ the King of Glory.
St. Thomas Aquinas Parish is a prayerful community that actively helps the needy, builds community, fosters prayer and vocations, brings the Good News to others, and keeps Christ at the center of its life.
In traditional icons the Mother of God and St. John are at the foot of the cross, sometimes accompanied by others such Mary, the mother of James and John, Mary Magdalen, and the soldier, Longinus. Also, beneath the cross is a cave with a skull which comes directly from Scripture, "They brought him to the place of Golgotha (which is translated Place of the Skull)." Mark 15:22
The Western Church traditionally places a sign on the crucifix which includes the Latin abbreviation for the first letters of Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (INRI), a title that was chosen to mock him. In these crucifix designs, I have added the common inscription of the Eastern Church which contains two parts. First,within Christ's halo is a cross with three letters (one letter covered by his leaning head),0, W,N. These are the Greek letters representing the words spoken to Moses from the burning bush, "God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you." (Ex 3:14) Beneath INRI, the letters IC and XC appear with a tilde above them (—). The tilde is an ancient symbol for a contraction. It is also the symbol used above the lettern(enye) in theSpanish alphabet (O. The IC and XC are the first letters of the Greek version of Christ's human name, Jesus Christos. Thus every icon acknowledges that Christ is at once human and divine.
The icon inscriptions will be in Latin and Greek (the Mother of God's inscription is usually the Greek abbreviation for God-bearer), and St. John's inscription will be in English. The use of multiple languages reflects the use of multiple languages within the liturgy, and connects St. Thomas Aquinas Parish with the universal Church. It also reflects the cultural diversity of the parish.
The Gaze of Christ
For the past 500 years, the crucifix has usually included Christ dead on the cross. However, the history of both the Eastern and Western Churches contains examples from the 10th century onwards of crucifixes with Christ gazing directly at the people. The practice was common in the middle ages. The design for the STA crucifix is not a risen Christ (which shows Christ post-Resurrection). This crucifix shows Christ just prior to his death. By his open gaze, we encounter the mystery of his suffering and saving death. We also are invited into relationship with him, as well as to contemplate him and what he means to us as the foundation and wellspring of our faith.
Depth of the Cross
As a metaphor, the depth of the cross is beyond our comprehension and we are incapable of comprehending the inexhaustible richness of its meaning. A s a compositional element of the crucifix, the depth of the cross creates a form that allows the crucifix to maintain its place effectively within the church space. Were the crucifix constructed of a simple 1" piece of plywood, it would have no weight as a design element, particularly as seen from the many side angle views in the worship space. Because the depth of the cross is large (approximately 10-12"), the composition requires additional design time to research and create images/color/treatment that are appropriate for the sides of the cross.
The crucifix consists of a single panel in the style of a Byzantine cross, with rectangles at the ends of the width and length. The rectangles at either end of the horizontal beam include icons of the Mother of God and St. John. Inscriptions are on the top rectangle. The rocky mountain with the cave and skull are found on the bottom rectangle. This design is peaceful, prayerful, profound, and somewhat more contemplative than the other design. The figures in the rectangles are partial and not very large, yet they do maintain the community aspect of the crucifix.
Size of the Crucifix
The design I have presented includes the cross strengthened by the addition of gold around it. Once again, this allows the form of the crucifix to work as a design element within the large space. The recommended size of the crucifix is between eight and nine feet in height and about six feet wide.
The Gift to STA
We are grateful to Phil Baumel and his family for the donation of the creation of this crucifix, and it is dedicated in memory of Rita Baumel. We also are grateful to the family of Leo and Sue Peters who donated the development and installation of this art. May God bless all of our amazing benefactors.