The Edmund Rice Icon by Desmond Kyne
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What is an Icon?
An icon (from the Greek eikon likeness, image, figure) is simply an image of a person. In religious art this image is a spiritual one, in that the icon may not physically resemble the person portrayed, but it tries to connect us to the spiritual mystery of that person. By use of splendid materials and brilliant colours the iconographer puts down in symbols the spiritual journey and achievements of the person.
The Icon of Edmund Rice was created by Irish artist Desmond Kyne and was unveiled in Liverpool, England in 1986. The original is about the size of a household door. Kyne uses the principles of Byzantine and Celtic iconography. He has devised, through modern technology, a unique process whereby light, falling onto a laser-ruled metal backing, is brilliantly reflected through glass in front, on which the Icon is painted. The Icon literally glows and sparkles in different ways depending on the angle of viewing it.
Desmond Kyne's artistic portrayal of Edmund's life in the kinetic glass medium has played a remarkable part in making Edmund's life known.
Edmund dominates the central icon panel. The artist is keen to show him as commanding, relaxed and intent. He is a person of strength and vision. His eyes are large, taking everything in and revealing his compassion and understanding.
He is very much a fatherly figure reaching out to marginalised youth. The significance of Mary, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the presence of suffering, and many other facets of Edmund's story are vividly portrayed.
Symbolism in the icon
The great whirling spiral is a symbol for God as creator bringing everything into being and calling others to help in that creative process.
For thousands of years this has been the favourite way of the Celts to depict their sense of the Sacred. This great whirling spiral has an abundance of energy- something that Edmund was remarkable for even into his old age. The spiral is also in flames representing the action of the Holy Spirit which set Edmund on fire with love for all especially the poor. It acted like the fire which draws us to its warmth when everything about us is cold.
Now imagine the vortex in the middle having no beginning but spiralling out to embrace everything. Edmund lived in that presence finding it in church, yes, but particularly among the poor. And in the way he put money to work for the poor he makes us realise that God is to be found in the world of business and finance as well. This is his special gift for out time.
So the Icon of Edmund Rice celebrates through symbolic pictures the holiness of Edmund, and holds him up as someone we can imitate. It could be described as a love story into which are woven the joy and pain, the good and evil, the energy and stillness, the success and failure, the agony and ecstasy of Edmund’s journey in life. But this journey is permeated by the everyday, practical spirituality that was so characteristic of Edmund.
The Holy Spirit
Here we have bird-like shapes moving outwards and downwards repeating themselves in waves of movement. Edmund permitted the Holy spirit to flow through his being, like the wind moves in the trees, or music through a perfect instrument.
Edmund was completely open to the Spirit moving creatively within him, through his life, and in his work. You will find many different symbols for the Holy Spirit throughout the icon.
We find him as water, as spirals, as the streaming air in the skies, as flames and fire, as bird shapes, as light, as the well of living water, and so on.
Mother Mary & Child
From ancient times Celtic people associated the feminine with God. It was easy for them therefore to hear the story of Mary and see her as the Mother of God with very special powers of intercession and presence.
Rings of fire surround the haloes of mother and child and evoke a lovely prayer poem from the Eastern Church in which Mary is praised and likened to: "The fiery chariot of God...the brightest morning...bearing the sun Christ." There are links here to Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange) the 5 000 year old religious monument celebrating the winter solstice, around which Christmas was later celebrated. There are also dots around the halo representing the rosary, called in Gaelic, Mary's crown. It was a prayer very familiar to Edmund.
Mary is looking directly at us. Jesus turns and looks at Edmund, and with a positive gesture recommends him to Mary. God's mother is being offered to replace Edmund's lost loved ones- Mary his young wife, and in another sense, Mary his only child.
The Bird Figure
This dark bird shape, part eagle, part raven, is a symbol of evil which touches Edmund, and the two sisters whom he was very devoted to. (Point at their picture on the homepage to learn more.) We don't have to look far to encounter this presence of evil in our world.
The symbol for evil here stems from some of the ancient stories of the Celtic heroes and how they contended with evil.
The same sinister symbol rising off the green fields of Ireland is a reminder that during Edmund's early life the people of Ireland were still subject to Dublin Castle, the seat of British power in Ireland. Edmund himself experienced many occasions of harassment while he attempted to work on behalf of the poor.