Catholic Herald staff
A Hudson artist who writes Byzantine icons doesn’t see them as mere images.
“It’s not meant to be a picture of reality,” Julie Green said. “It’s a picture of spirituality. It takes you into another realm.”
Green was a parishioner at St. Bridget, River Falls, before she moved to Hudson. She now attends church in Stillwater, Minnesota, but she continues to help Fr. Jerry Harris a couple days a week in the office, “mostly keeping ahead of his desk.”
Green’s other connection to St. Bridget is an artistic one. A couple years ago, she was commissioned through an endowment fund to write a series of Byzantine icons that would become the church’s Stations of the Cross. Now completed, the group of 16 14- by 17-inch icons was unveiled at an April 17 reception.
Green has been teaching art classes for years. A late parishioner of St. Bridget’s, Joany Shephard, was taking Green’s iconography class when the two discussed iconographic Stations of the Cross. Shephard passed away before Green could finish painting an example, but their conversation lives on in Shephard’s legacy to her parish.
Green designed the icons to pair with St. John Paul II’s Stations of the Cross at the Coliseum in Rome.
“There are only two other people who have done pictures to go with them,” she said.
For the style and symbolism, she looked to a Greek model.
“These (figures) come from historic models, and the tradition of the Byzantines is mostly the prayer that goes with them,” Green said. “Prayers and fasting.
“The colors are really bright,” she continued. “The significance of pain and suffering and sorrow (are) noted in the robes Jesus wore.”
Red signifies his blood, and blue is for his humanity, she said. The Blessed Mother also wears those colors.
In iconography, every detail, from the scale of objects to the setting, colors and facial features, is laced with symbolism. Green uses this language to communicate through the images.
“Icons are considered a window to heaven,” she explained. “You look into the icon and through it to see what spirituality is being portrayed. Every stroke is deliberate in writing an icon.”
Gestures emphasize Jesus’ divinity. Throughout the pictures, Jesus’ hands are blessing, anointing or extending forgiveness.
A number of Green’s icons have blue backgrounds, and some are dark with stars.
“I tried to do them according to the time when they were happening,” she added. Events that took place during the day are set against a gold background; the sky is blue for afternoon and evening events.
Green also slipped in bits of creation – plants in the earth, stars in the sky – to show Jesus as a creator.
“In most of them, there’s little plants or trees or something,” she added.
Green started writing in 1991. She studied with several Russian iconographers and also with some in the States; she’s been writing them professionally since 2000.
Although this project was not without difficulties – Green lost two of her brothers during the two-year stretch, and she also broke her shoulder – she enjoyed “the quietness in painting and prayer,” which she said “gave me a very rich experience in the suffering of Jesus.”
She also felt it was a blessing “to bring the icons and their symbolism into the Roman Catholic Church.”
“It’s a different style also, because we don’t worship the icon,” she added.
Green’s artistic encounter with Byzantine icons began decades ago. She didn’t care for them when she was studying art, but then she was invited to go on retreat with an icon-writing nun.
“I did go,” she added. “It was wonderful. It started me on a whole ‘nother path.”
She hopes the path will lead to possible publication. She intends to make a booklet pairing the icons with St. John Paul II’s meditations, then offer them for consideration by Catholic publishers.