Icons of the British and Anglo-Saxon Saints

12 July – 2 August 2019

All Hallows by the Tower, Byward Street, London  EC3R 5BJ

Exhibition open:

Monday to Friday 10 am to 6pm. Saturday 10 am to 5pm.

Closed on Sundays

Exhibition Events:

Icon workshop for children age 5-10. Sunday 14 July, 14.00 – 15.30. Free event, materials provided. Children must be accompanied by an adult. RSVP

Russian Avant-garde and the icon painting tradition. Talk by Andrew Spira. Thursday 25th July, 18.30. Free event, RSVP.

This exhibition brings together a collection of icons of early Christian saints of the British Isles reflecting the ancient tradition of Byzantine Iconography. Furthermore, the show also includes icons by contemporary Russian iconographers of British saints, biblical figures, as well as images of the Mother of God and major Christian Feasts.

Icons, as venerated in the Orthodox Church, are the continuation of an ancient tradition of the Church. For most of the first millennium, Christians throughout the world had far more in common than anything that separated them. This is especially true of religious art, and the British and Anglo-Saxon Christians were familiar with religious art in the form that we now call icons. What is it that characterizes this form of religious art, eventually lost in the West, but preserved in the Orthodox East? They are primarily works of devotion. Orthodox churches are not bare spaces, but full of images – icons – of Christ, the Mother of God and the saints. This is still the case in Orthodox churches, as it was in churches in the medieval West, right up to the end of the Middle Ages. The walls and pillars of Gothic churches and cathedrals were not intended to be left bare: a cathedral like Durham was adorned by bright colours, and among these colours were depictions of angels and saints, of Christ and his Mother, and biblical events.

The Iconoclast controversy – from 726 to 843 – led to profound reflection among Byzantine Christians on the theology of the icon, with a renewed realization of its importance, and the value of the icon in underscoring the Incarnation. It also led to clarification about the icon as a window onto heaven – a window, not so much in the sense of a literal opening, but as the gaze that meets ours as we contemplate an icon, a gaze that establishes a relationship and draws us through prayer into a world transfigured by the deifying presence of the risen Christ. The very presence of icons made real this sense of a world transfigured by the divine light, and thus opening onto Paradise.

It therefore makes perfect sense to revive this tradition of ancient icons of the saints of Britain. As Orthodoxy has grown in the British Isles, we have come to appreciate more deeply the saints who flourished in these lands before Christendom was divided by the Great Schism. They are saints who recognizably belong to the same tradition that has continued in Orthodoxy to the present day. They – and our veneration of them – are important, for they help us to realize that Orthodoxy is not something foreign to the West. Indeed, the veneration of British and Anglo-Saxon Saints is not something confined to the British Isles. As their stories have become known, their veneration has begun to spread outside the traditional world of Orthodoxy. May this exhibition deepen the veneration of our Saints.

Featured images from top: Icons of St Brendan and Kazanskaya Mother of God by Tatiana Kolibaba (c). Icon of St Ethefleda by Anna Mayhew-Smith (c). Icon of St Etheldreda by Tatiana Kolibaba (c). Courtesy White Space Gallery, London

Exhibition open 12 July – 2 August 2019

Monday to Friday 10 am to 6pm. Saturday 10 am to 5pm.

Closed on Sundays

All Hallows by the Tower
Byward Street, London  EC3R 5BJ

T. +447949100956