30 October 2012
Interlude....This Amazing Process . . .
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised…but this is really mind-boggling.
If you read back to when I painted my first icon of St. Columba (at the very start of this blog), I was very undecided as to which saint would be captured in my second icon. I was debating back and forth, but nothing seemed ‘right.’ And so, on the day I completed my icon of St. Columba, I looked at the calendar…and it was the feast day of St. Clement of Rome, the patron saint of the church in which I was raised, and I suddenly knew whom to paint next.
And so here I am, in the last days of finishing that Icon. I have been frustrated in the last week, because I *could* have been finished earlier, but I kept making what I saw as stupid mistakes, painting errors that need to dry before I can correct them. And at the same time, my mind has been wandering…because, once again, I have been undecided on which Icon to begin next. I have been considering a whole litany of saints whose lives interest me: St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Ansgar. St. Kilian, St. Thomas the Apostle, St. Tutilo of Gallen….
Even so, my mind started considering St. Bega, a 9th/10th Century Irish saint who fled to the Lakes District of England. I had been to St. Bee’s, England, a town named after her, and home to a Priory founded on the site of her sttlement. I had also explored a small and unique church named for her, hidden in a sheep pasture in a valley in Bassenthwaite. She is not well known outside of these two places, except in popular literature because of Melvyn Bragg’s historical novel, “Credo.” I actually began to feel guilty that my mind was wandering to Bega so much even as I was still painting Clement…especially since Bega was so obscure by most standards.
I had also done some research on the monastic site of Nendrum in Northern Ireland, a historical ruin which I had visited, but was unable to find much information for specific saints connected with that site, and so I ‘gave up’ on it. In the meantime, I had collected several file folders of information about St. Thomas – more than any other saint, for certain. I was leaning towards him next, and began to settle in on that decision, being intrigued by the many early writings that connect him with the early evangelization of India.
So, today, still undecided as to my next effort, I cleaned up many of my errors on Clement. I finally got to the point where I felt I could probably finish in the next day…certainly in the next week, putting the ‘finish’ date somewhere between October 31 (tomorrow) and November 7 (one week later). I only need to clean up a few obscured lines, and finish the anchors on Clement’s pallium, and I am finished.
And so, waiting for the last bits of paint to dry, I started some web research for my next Icon.
Whereupon I stumbled upon my first scholarly piece of research on St. Bega, and read the following:
“About 1400, the day of St Bega was celebrated at St Mary's, York as one of the lesser festivals, ...But what day was that? Canon Wilson, editor of the St Bees Register, mentions three possible dates - 6 September, 31 October and 17 December. 31 October also occurs in the calendar of saints' days kept at Aberdeen and (as the date of the Saint's death) in the Life of St Bega. “ (John M. Todd at http://www.stbees.org.uk/publications/bega/index.htm )
The author continues:
“…Apart from those already mentioned, there is another possible day, 7 November, which is almost certainly the one celebrated at St Bees. The premise is that the day would be the same there as at York. The coming and going of monks between mother house and dependency - clearly shown for the thirteenth century by the St Mary's Chronicle - was such that different feasts for the same saint in the two houses were unlikely.... there is a fifteenth-century Book of Hours in the Bodleian Library which certainly belonged to St Mary's, and a Psalter which probably did, and in the calendars of both manuscripts St Bega the virgin appears on 7 November. And that seems conclusive.”
And just in case there was any question, my eyes widened as I read further. One of the most famous legends associated with Bega is that of a “holy bracelet” that belonged to Bega, which was kept as a relic in the Priory at St. Bees. In discussing the origin of the bracelet, the scholar wrote the following:
“…Or it may even have been brought back from Ireland (where bracelets of the type indicated by Butler have been found in large numbers), conceivably from the daughter house of St Bees established at Nendrum in 1178….”
Nendrum – the historic ruins about which I had so far found nothing – was a daughter house of the main Priory of St. Bees, which was the ‘home base’ of St. Bega…and whose Feast Day was October 31…and/or November 7.
I think I know who I am supposed to paint next.
In the meantime, we will apply the anchors which ended Clement's life, and bring our work on Clement to a close this week.