Monday, December 04, 2006

"From The Sinai Desert To The Hollywood Hills"

by Hope Frances

In Hollywood the word "icon" usually refers a silver screen legend such as Greta Garbo, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn or Marlon Brando. But recently, the word "icon" has taken on a whole new role in this celebrity-filled city.

From now until March 4, 2007, the Getty Center in Los Angeles will serve as home to over 50 religious icons in the exhibit entitled, "Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai."


The road to Los Angeles was an amazing feat considering that many of these pieces of religious artwork have never left their home, St. Catherine's Monastery, prior to this exhibition. It is located in the Sinai desert where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Built in the sixth century, St. Catherine's is the oldest working Christian monastery in the world. Named after the martyr St. Catherine of Alexandria, it is also known as the Monastery of the Transfiguration.

In order to preserve the icons during their journey across the world from the Sinai Desert to Los Angeles, custom made shipping crates were built to prevent any damage from humidity that the artwork might undergo due to changes in climate. Monks from St. Catherine's traveled across the world with the artwork and will stay in Los Angeles during the four-month long exhibit at the Getty.


The word icon comes from the Greek "eikon" also known as "image." Some of these images on display date back to the fifth century. Not only is it incredible that the quality of the artwork has stood the test of time, they have miraculously survived the era of Iconoclasm. During the eighth century, from 730 - 787, and then again in the ninth century, from 814 - 842, Byzantine emperors ordered the destruction of icons. The emperors considered religious paintings and the like a form of idolatry. They prohibited the creating of icons representing Jesus or any saint. However, Christians felt that it was a way to pay respect to the figure represented in the icon rather than to the image itself.

So, despite the widespread destruction of icons during the period of Iconoclasm the images at St. Catherine's monastery remained unharmed. That is primarily due to the remoteness of this monastery.


The exhibit is nothing short of amazing. These works were truly created in prayer. Each piece is handcrafted with such detail that even the non-believer could be touched by such a work of art. Tempera and either gold or silver leaf were the mediums primarily used to create the icons.

"The Heavenly Ladder" portrays the treatise on monastic life written by John Climacus, abbot at Sinai in the early seventh century. The painting shows the 30 steps to spiritual salvation, the number 30 being symbolic to the age that Jesus began his ministry. It also depicts the temptations that monks face on their journey towards heaven.

Among other icons of note is the painting of St. Theodosia holding a gold cross. She was martyred for her staunch defense of these sacred images. And now her image can be seen throughout the city of angels on billboards advertising the exhibit.

Yet again, God shines brighter than all the stars in Hollywood.

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