Many of the saints depicted in the icons I have written are saints that are common to both the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches. These are typically images that have developed in the Eastern church over the centuries, in accord with the canons. But religious iconography is part of the stream of the living Tradition of the Christian Church, so the necessity to write images of new saints arises after they are canonized.
The Roman Catholic iconographer is also called to prayerfully explore the images of the Blessed Virgin Mary that have risen within the Roman Catholic Church as a result of the apparitions of the Virgin that have received proper authentication—images such as the Virgin of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Fatima, and Our Lady of Lourdes.
One little-known Marian apparition in the United States occurred in Wisconsin in 1859, when Our Lady appeared to a young Belgian nun, Adele Brise. Known as Our Lady of Good Help, she instructed Adele to teach the children of the area their faith. A chapel and school were built on the site of the apparition, and it became a place of pilgrimage in the ensuing years. In 2010, after considerable investigation, Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay issued a decree on the authenticity of the apparitions. (Read the bishop’s decree.)
Last year one of my students approached me about developing an image of Our Lady of Good Help. Dr. Catherine Stevenson is a member of the Order of Malta, which was planning a pilgrimage to the shrine. Catherine and I researched the existing iconography and then proceeded to develop an image that was somewhat Byzantine in style, yet was also true to Adele’s description of the Virgin: that she was dressed in dazzling white with a yellow sash, had long flowing blond hair and a crown of stars, and was surrounded by bright light. The existing imagery was inconsistent about whether her head was covered with a veil or bare. Our biggest challenge in developing the design was determining whether to cover her head in accord with traditional Byzantine iconography or to leave her with no head covering. In the end, Catherine left her image bare-headed, and I put a transparent white veil on mine.
We began the design with a classical Byzantine drawing of the Virgin in the standing orans (or prayer) position. We removed the Byzantine head covering, gave her long flowing hair, and slightly restyled the garments, adding a yellow sash. We painted all of her garments white, using Vladislav Andrejev’s crystal-garment technique: a soft green undercoat, layers of multi-colored pastel highlights, and white overpainting. A few photos of the steps in the process, as well as the finished icons, are below.