Icons of the Celtic Saints

Over the last few years, I have received a great number of emails and messages from people who feel a closeness to the Celtic Saints and who would like to own a hand-painted icon for their private life of prayer. Most of the options I found were either too expensive (for me, at least), or they were mass-produced generic icons. That is not wrong in itself, but it does take away from the unique character each icon should have.  it also means that it becomes very difficult to personalise the icon, so that elements of Celtic Christianity, as well as specific details from the life of each saint are difficult to include.

As it usually happens, I looked in all the wrong directions until the obvious solution simply presented itself to me. One evening, as I was praying before my own icon of St Seraphim, I realised I could simply get back in touch with the iconographer who painted my own icon. He was the right choice for my personal icons, so he should be good enough for anyone else. He is not a famous master, he does not run a workshop employing other people. He is a simple man whom I have met while he was working in our monastery in Moldavia. He was involved in the restoration of the fifteenth century iconography in our main church. I grew to like him, as he was a quiet and faithful man, and so I eventually asked him to paint an icon of St Seraphim for me to use in my cell.

So I’ve got back in touch with him to ask if he is still painting (he is an older gentleman), and I’ve asked him to paint a series of twelve Celtic Saints for us. These are the first three: St Columba, St Brendan and St Patrick. Because he does not mass-produce, he had the time to work with me on the composition of each icon. We selected specific details relevant to the life of each saint and we replaced some of the Byzantine elements with Celtic ones (such as using Celtic Crosses, the Celtic symbol of the Trinity, the Celtic style of monastic tonsure etc).

So here they are: each of them unique and unrepeatable, each of them carefully thought about and prayed for. We only have one copy of each, and they are available from our online bookstore. Subsequent orders will incorporate all specifically Celtic and personal details, but will not be identical to these ones. Original hand-painted icons are always unique. In style and quality, they are exactly what I own and what most monastics in Moldavia use in their cells. They are all hand-painted on wood, with golden leaf; the wood is enforced on the back for a longer life; on the back of each icon there is a small painting of a Celtic Cross, and the words: ‘Monastery of All Celtic Saints, Isle of Mull, Scotland’. All icons have already been blessed by me, but you may take them to your church for a blessing, too.

For more details, see these links:

Icon of St Patrick of Ireland

Icon of St Brendan the Navigator

Icon of St Columba of Iona

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10 responses

    • 🙂 No, Cathy, you are right. That is why I included a photo of the text, so that the typo is visible. The iconographer turned an ‘e’ into a ‘y’.
      I’m used to that from our icons in Moldavia. All our ancient icons have their texts written either in Greek or Slavonic. Moldavian iconographers were local people, very often simple peasants with no education, but very talented and spiritual people. The didn’t speak any of these languages, nor could they write, which makes this sort of typo very common.
      The best examples come from icons painted on glass (which are my favourite icons). Because these are in fact reflections of images painted on wood, everything is painted ‘the other way around’. The simple peasants of Transylvania (where this kind of icon is very popular) could make sense of the image itself, but definitely could not understand the writing, so you end up with most of the writing painted backwards – for example, you don’t have ‘IC XC’, but ‘CX CI’. To make things even more complicated, these are all Greek or Slavonic letters, which made little (if any) sense for an iconographer used to the Roman alphabet.
      Anyway, I personally like this sort of hidden story. Apart from their role in our life of prayer, icons can tell you a great deal about the person who painted them and the society to which they belong. This is a huge, distant world. It feels a bit less distant and more intimate when you are reminded that you pray with an icon that was painted for you by someone who could not even speak your language, but who shares the same faith with you.

      • Sorry I didn’t see your reply sooner.
        I can understand that perfectly. I paint icons myself (Anglican ones), and no doubt there are many such mistakes when I use Cyrillic characters. I know a little Russian and a tiny bit of Greek, but it isn’t enough to be certain that the images are always as they should be.
        I rather like the typos now, after your explanation.

  • Dear Father Seraphim,

    I want to ask, if you are familiar to saint Kilian, Totnan and Colonat? They were all celtic saints, who travelled to Germany (well, of course in those days it wasn’t called so) and missioned the people. The diocese Würzburg was founded by them, were they are still buried.
    I am asking you, because…well…maybe it would be possible for you to ask your icon painter to create also a icon of these holy men?

    + In Christ

    P.S.: Which other celtic icons are planed?
    P.P.S.: I really hope, that you will go on in coming years with your pilgrimages…and maybe there will be once one during august. Because I am not able to get holidays before august.

    • Dear Stephanie,
      I only know of them thanks to you. What a beautiful life they have! It is amazing that St Kilian had lived as a monk on Iona before setting on his journey to Germany. Write me an email, please, and let’s start thinking about an icon of these three holy men. The most difficult part will be creating a composition that is relevant to their lives, and also canonically correct. But we can do that together.
      As for our pilgrimages: I’m purposely trying to keep August free (or at least, part of it), because I want to rest. Last year, I was exhausted at the end of the summer and I had to go straight into my work at the university, which was a bit too much. If possible, I’d like to avoid that in the future.
      Anyway, write me an email ([email protected]) and we’ll work together on the composition. Thank you for writing.

  • Dear Father,
    thank you very much for your kind offering!
    I wrote you to your mail adress, but maybe it will land up in the spam-folder. The reference is: Icons.

    with greetings from germany

  • Beware the clover from Ireland: God hath no stem!
    I love the partly occluded cross on the sail of Saint Columba’s boat which immediately gives rise to the cross on Iona. Wonderful perspective, movement, prediction and vision.
    Glory to God in His saints who pray for us.
    In Christ. FR C

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