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Author Topic: Question about Icons in the Western Rite  (Read 3277 times) Average Rating: 0
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JLatimer
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« on: January 29, 2010, 04:24:38 AM »

I've never had a chance to visit a Western Rite parish, but in looking at pictures of some on the internet, I've noticed that many seem committed to a "Western" aesthetic of bare white walls with perhaps the stations of the Cross. But when you look at really old churches in western Europe, they had frescoes and mosaics everywhere just like many Eastern Orthodox churches. The minimalist iconography you see in western churches today (Protestant or Catholic) in my opinion isn't Western as much as it is post-Reformation (i.e. iconoclastic). In most "Byzantine" parishes I've encountered, there is usually at least a dream of having the majority of the interior painted with icons. I get a vibe from a lot of Western Rite parishes that this isn't even on the radar. Why is that?
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« Reply #1 on: January 29, 2010, 04:31:23 AM »

Why is that?

Because we don't have an Empire anymore to sponsor our church-building?
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« Reply #2 on: January 29, 2010, 04:58:00 AM »

So having a few icons rather than hundreds is iconoclastic??
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« Reply #3 on: January 29, 2010, 05:20:32 AM »

I've never had a chance to visit a Western Rite parish, but in looking at pictures of some on the internet...The minimalist iconography you see in western churches today (Protestant or Catholic) in my opinion isn't Western as much as it is post-Reformation (i.e. iconoclastic). In most "Byzantine" parishes I've encountered, there is usually at least a dream of having the majority of the interior painted with icons. I get a vibe from a lot of Western Rite parishes that this isn't even on the radar.

You sound like an expert.  Getting "vibes" off the internet, are we?

Welcome to the forum!
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« Reply #4 on: January 29, 2010, 05:23:12 AM »

So having a few icons rather than hundreds is iconoclastic??

No, that's not what I meant. My Russian Orthodox parish is pretty bare. I think chiefly we just don't have a lot of money. I thought maybe that's why some Western Rite parishes are bare as well (that seems to be what Alpo is saying); also, maybe there's a lack of iconographers with a knowledge of and experience executing "Western style" church art.

I'm honestly just trying to find out what Western Rite folks have as their aesthetic ideals.

I sometimes get the impression, though, that the aesthetic is: take an Anglican church and put two Eastern icons of Christ and the Theotokos above the altar and presto. Personally, that doesn't seem very Western or Orthodox to me. I'm a big fan of Western religious art, and I've always found it interesting that pre-Schism and relatively-soon-after-Schism Western icons and religious paintings look a helluvalot like Byzantine icons, but still with particular Western styles (just like there a lots of regional styles of Byzantine art).

It seems to me trying to recover a maximalist Western aesthetic would be more Orthodox and more beautiful than settling for a sort of "corrected" post-Schism aesthetic which seems 'scarred' by Reformation-era iconoclasm.

I'm not trying to say East=Orthodox-West=heterodox/iconoclast. I'm trying to say something like maximalism/art/color/exuberance=Orthodox. I don't buy the Eastern-is-exuberant-Western-is-somber thing any more than I buy the East-focuses-on-the-Resurrection-West-focuses-on-the-Cross thing. The stone carvings and statues on a lot of Gothic cathedrals used to be painted. Basically the way I see it, the Protestant Reformers tried to take all the fun out of Christianity and make ii four bare walls and a slab (or maybe not even a slab but just a podium), and Orthodox, whether Western or Eastern, should reject that ethos and bring on the smells and bells.

None of these examples are Orthodox, but they are pretty:

http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2009/04/architectural-features-rood-screen.html

The first church has more painting, the second, less. What do people think about these examples?

More of St. Birinus church: http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2008/09/rood-screen-at-st-birinus.html

http://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/3389846756/

Some cool panel art from the 1400s (okay, I know that's way after the schism):

http://www.flickr.com/photos/norfolkodyssey/244513453/in/photostream/

This English church has a Pantokrator above the altar:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/3067290397/

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« Last Edit: January 29, 2010, 05:56:33 AM by JLatimer » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: January 29, 2010, 05:25:28 AM »

I've never had a chance to visit a Western Rite parish, but in looking at pictures of some on the internet...The minimalist iconography you see in western churches today (Protestant or Catholic) in my opinion isn't Western as much as it is post-Reformation (i.e. iconoclastic). In most "Byzantine" parishes I've encountered, there is usually at least a dream of having the majority of the interior painted with icons. I get a vibe from a lot of Western Rite parishes that this isn't even on the radar.

You sound like an expert.  Getting "vibes" off the internet, are we?

Welcome to the forum!

I'm admittedly not an expert. I'm pretty ignorant. Since all I have to go off is conversations I've had with 1 Western rite friend and some pictures off the internet, I was hoping ya'll could educate me. I'm really not trying to offend anybody.
« Last Edit: January 29, 2010, 05:25:53 AM by JLatimer » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: January 29, 2010, 06:03:03 AM »

I don't buy the Eastern-is-exuberant-Western-is-somber thing any more than I buy the East-focuses-on-the-Resurrection-West-focuses-on-the-Cross thing.

The West most certainly places a greater emphasis on the passion and the cross.  The suffering of Christ is a prominent feature in Roman Catholicism.  The stations of the cross and huge crucifix at the front of every church building should betray this emphasis.
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« Reply #7 on: January 29, 2010, 06:10:33 AM »

I don't buy the Eastern-is-exuberant-Western-is-somber thing any more than I buy the East-focuses-on-the-Resurrection-West-focuses-on-the-Cross thing.

The West most certainly places a greater emphasis on the passion and the cross.  The suffering of Christ is a prominent feature in Roman Catholicism.  The stations of the cross and huge crucifix at the front of every church building should betray this emphasis.

Yeah I guess you are right. I think the Orthodox Church puts the right amount of emphasis on both, though. I can't speak for Roman Catholicism.

PS Why do some Orthodox object to Western Rite folks using the stations of the Cross? I don't see why this practice is bad, as long as folks aren't putting a Melgibsonian, undue emphasis on the sufferings of Christ at the expense of the Resurrection. I mean, in the Eastern tradition, on Great and Holy Friday we dwell a whole bunch on the suffering and death of Jesus.
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« Reply #8 on: January 29, 2010, 06:24:55 AM »

I've never had a chance to visit a Western Rite parish, but in looking at pictures of some on the internet, I've noticed that many seem committed to a "Western" aesthetic of bare white walls with perhaps the stations of the Cross. But when you look at really old churches in western Europe, they had frescoes and mosaics everywhere just like many Eastern Orthodox churches. The minimalist iconography you see in western churches today (Protestant or Catholic) in my opinion isn't Western as much as it is post-Reformation (i.e. iconoclastic). In most "Byzantine" parishes I've encountered, there is usually at least a dream of having the majority of the interior painted with icons. I get a vibe from a lot of Western Rite parishes that this isn't even on the radar. Why is that?
The West is more subdued.  Always has been.

I don't know what Churches you have in mind that have frescoes and mosaics everywhere.  St. Mark's in Venice would be an exception, but then it was heavily influenced by the East.

That said, the experience of Iconoclasm had stimulated the excess of the East more than usual: Churches from before that period, although not bare, often are not covered from top to bottom either.  The same with many OO Churches.
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« Reply #9 on: January 29, 2010, 06:48:04 AM »

The West is more subdued.  Always has been.
Have you seen the Sistine Chapel?
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« Reply #10 on: January 29, 2010, 06:51:42 AM »

I've never had a chance to visit a Western Rite parish, but in looking at pictures of some on the internet, I've noticed that many seem committed to a "Western" aesthetic of bare white walls with perhaps the stations of the Cross. But when you look at really old churches in western Europe, they had frescoes and mosaics everywhere just like many Eastern Orthodox churches. The minimalist iconography you see in western churches today (Protestant or Catholic) in my opinion isn't Western as much as it is post-Reformation (i.e. iconoclastic). In most "Byzantine" parishes I've encountered, there is usually at least a dream of having the majority of the interior painted with icons. I get a vibe from a lot of Western Rite parishes that this isn't even on the radar. Why is that?
The West is more subdued.  Always has been.

I don't know what Churches you have in mind that have frescoes and mosaics everywhere.  St. Mark's in Venice would be an exception, but then it was heavily influenced by the East.

That said, the experience of Iconoclasm had stimulated the excess of the East more than usual: Churches from before that period, although not bare, often are not covered from top to bottom either.  The same with many OO Churches.

This Antiochian Western Rite parish in Whittier California has a rather large wall painting above the apse: http://www.stmichaelwhittier.org/dnn/Photos/tabid/75/Default.aspx

I'm guessing this is the beginning of more decoration to come: http://www.stcolumbachurch.org/iconography.html

Still a lot of white though. Was the West really always more "subdued?" If subdued means drab, I don't buy it. I've seen pictures of churches as far north as Scandinavia that had wall paintings covering a significant portion of the interior. I've also seen super ancient churches with very little artwork. But I doubt there were many pre-Schism churches, West or East, that purposefully looked like this: http://www.orthodoxresurgence.com/petroc/pics/purity.jpg
« Last Edit: January 29, 2010, 06:51:58 AM by JLatimer » Logged

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« Reply #11 on: January 29, 2010, 06:52:43 AM »

The West is more subdued.  Always has been.
Have you seen the Sistine Chapel?

Thank you. My point exactly. Totally Western. Totally exuberant. And the Sistine Chapel is not alone among Western churches in being richly decorated. One does notice, however, that churches (Protestant or Catholic) in predominantly Protestant countries like the USA seem to be less ornate. Hmm. I wonder why.

Also, have you read about the stripping bare of churches that occurred under Henry VIII? What a lot of people in this country seem to think is a "subdued" Western aesthetic is really just a result of that and other historical instances of vandalism.

Or seen a religious procession or been to a church in a Hispanic country (or New Mexico for that matter)? The peoples of the West who built the Gothic cathedrals and invented the botafumeiro (http://rubens.anu.edu.au/raid1cdroms/spain/santiago_de_compostella/cathedral/interior/botafumeiro/) were not "subdued."

Gnosticism is drab: http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/eighteen/images/puroldshippulpit.jpg

Christianity is not.

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« Last Edit: January 29, 2010, 07:22:01 AM by JLatimer » Logged

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« Reply #12 on: January 29, 2010, 10:55:24 AM »

Quote
Gnosticism is drab:

I'm not sure what the image you provided is, but some ancient gnostics reverenced icons of Jesus Christ and others, and seemed to have a rather lively sensibility to them.
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« Reply #13 on: January 29, 2010, 11:30:38 AM »

Honestly I think it's a financial thing. I am sure that if you handed a Western Rite parish a few million dollars, they would build a spectacular building. As Alpo said, the great churches of Europe had state support (and the church had large coffers as well). To build St Peter's Basilica today, I have heard estimates as high as $5 billion. For many parishes (East and West) it's hard enough to pay the priest's salary and keep the lights on. I would love to see amazing WRO parishes, and maybe someday it will happen, but Churches are unbelievably expensive operations.
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« Reply #14 on: January 29, 2010, 11:57:19 AM »

The WR is small, new, and doesn't have a lot of money yet. That's really the simple reason as far as I can tell.
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« Reply #15 on: January 29, 2010, 12:35:55 PM »

The West is more subdued.  Always has been.
Have you seen the Sistine Chapel?
As a matter of fact, yes, I have, in addition to scores of older churches from England to Bosnai, and from Rome to Scandinavia.  One reason for its fame is the rarity of such a thing, except in a) areas of Eastern influence, like Venice and Sicily and b) areas where the Counter Reformation and the accompanying Baroque were in full force.

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« Reply #16 on: January 29, 2010, 12:38:04 PM »

I've seen pictures of churches as far north as Scandinavia that had wall paintings covering a significant portion of the interior.
Such as?
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« Reply #17 on: January 29, 2010, 12:43:34 PM »

Also, have you read about the stripping bare of churches that occurred under Henry VIII? What a lot of people in this country seem to think is a "subdued" Western aesthetic is really just a result of that and other historical instances of vandalism.

I've been out of this country plenty, and wasn't even thinking of churches in this country.

Quote
Or seen a religious procession or been to a church in a Hispanic country (or New Mexico for that matter)? The peoples of the West who built the Gothic cathedrals and invented the botafumeiro (http://rubens.anu.edu.au/raid1cdroms/spain/santiago_de_compostella/cathedral/interior/botafumeiro/) were not "subdued."
By Eastern Orthodox standards, that's subdued.  The Sistine Chapel it is not.

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« Reply #18 on: January 29, 2010, 02:05:57 PM »

The Romanesque churches of France and northern Spain were once, all covered in frescoes:
http://www.revue-pyrenees.com/local/cache-vignettes/L300xH400/Estamariu_peintures_romanes-74b9b.jpg
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbaye_de_Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Église_de_Vals
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« Reply #19 on: January 29, 2010, 04:03:31 PM »

I've seen pictures of churches as far north as Scandinavia that had wall paintings covering a significant portion of the interior.
Such as?

Such as the church of Holy Cross in Hattula, Finland from 14th or 15 century or the church of St. Lawrence in Lohja, Finland from 15th or 16th century.
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« Reply #20 on: February 02, 2010, 02:12:33 PM »

Links to some WRO (and/or Western Orthodox saints) icons galleries:
- http://www.stcolumbachurch.org/icon_details.html
- http://www.allmercifulsavior.com/icons/Western.html
- http://www.saintlaurenceosb.org/icon.html
- http://www.allmercifulsavior.com/Liturgy/Culture1.html
- http://www.orthodoxengland.org.uk/zicons.htm
« Last Edit: February 02, 2010, 02:12:50 PM by Michał » Logged
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