Modern church iconography
[The following article is reproduced (with minor changes) from the January 2012 issue of the Mennonite Brethren Herald.]
The artwork featured on the back cover of this month’s Herald (January 2012) is currently on display at Steinbach (Man.) MB Church. It is a series of banners by Elenore Dyck and Pat van Nes, created to illustrate a sermon series on the Beatitudes, entitled “Kingdom Attitudes.” Here’s how Elenore and Pat describe their artwork:
Our project started from a small concept drawing and eventually became a mural 180 inches wide and 75 inches long. Each Sunday, a new banner was displayed, with a different Beatitude as the focus of the sermon. At the end of the series, eight banners completed the mural.
We decided to give meaning to each symbol and segment on the piece. For example, the symbol for “Blessed are the meek” is a powerful but bridled horse, representing meekness: power under control. (For practical reasons, the order of the banners doesn’t follow the biblical text. Our sequence is: the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst, the pure of heart, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the persecuted.)
On each banner are eight sections. At the bottom, the earth represents our firm foundation in God’s Word. The squares are fields of grain, which symbolize our working lives in various jobs over the years. The river segment represents life’s blessings and experiences — dark and light colours show the intensity of those events. The next section is a reflection, which speaks of our thoughts about our Creator. The pine trees represent life’s seasons: autumn, winter, spring, and summer.
Above that are hills and rocks, symbolizing big and small opportunities and responsibilities. The brown, bare trees represent hands lifted to God in prayer. Notice how each tree has five branches or “fingers.” The final section is a glorious sky and sunrise — our eternal hope of life after death!
In addition to illustrating the sermon series, we thought it would be interesting to introduce a modern-day version of ancient iconography* to the church. Generally, today’s Western world is literate and doesn’t need pictures to tell God’s story. However, our artwork has helped the congregation remember the Beatitudes, and provided a vehicle for personal reflection.
This was a thought-provoking and challenging project to complete, and we’re happy to share it with you.
Pastor Walter Fast adds, “We’re hoping to create a kind of inter-church loan system for this type of artwork—why reinvent the wheel if others have done a marvelous job of creating something so beautiful!”
*According to the Oxford Canadian Dictionary, an icon is a “devotional painting or carving.” Iconography is a) the visual images and symbols typical of an art form, an artistic movement, an artist, a culture, etc. b) the interpretation of the significance of these. The term does not imply worship of the images.