Dom Alex Echeandía, OSB: "This blog reflects on what many people ask about God and His image. In a way, it focuses on questions like: How should art depict the relationship between man and God? How can art best express eternal values? Can you, and should you, portray the face of Christ? For many centuries these were some of the questions which taxed the minds of the greatest artists of Western Christianity. For Eastern Christianity, the sacred icons make that connection between God and man in Christ, the perfect and ideal Image of God: Imago Dei."

The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin is the most analysed artefact in the world, yet remains the world's greatest unsolved mystery. Could it be the actual burial cloth that wrapped the historical Jesus or is it nothing more than a medieval hoax?  For centuries, scientists and historians, artists and believers have pored over the mysterious Shroud of Turin. 

Here you will find a comment of a new discovery made in Italy, It is followed by an excellent video produced by BBC. In addition, there is a link from "The Vatican Insider" on technological advances in approaching the Holy Linen.  Finally, four videos on the history of the Shroud.  

New testing dates Shroud of Turin to era of Christ, by Doug Stanglin (RNS, USA)

New scientific tests on the Shroud of Turin, which went on display Saturday (March 30) in a special TV appearance introduced by the pope, date the cloth to ancient times, challenging earlier experiments that dated it only to the Middle Ages.

Pope Francis sent a special video message to the televised event in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, which coincided with Holy Saturday, when Catholics mark the period between Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

The Vatican, tiptoeing carefully, has never claimed that the 14-foot linen cloth was used to cover Christ after he was taken from the cross 2,000 years ago, as some believers claim.

Francis, reflecting that careful Vatican policy, on Saturday called the cloth, which is kept in a climate-controlled case, an “icon” — not a relic.

But Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin, the “pontifical custodian of the shroud,” said the special display on Holy Saturday “means that it represents a very important testimony to the Passion and the resurrection of the Lord,” The Telegraph reported.

The burial shroud purports to show the imprint of the face and body of a bearded man. The image also purportedly shows nail wounds at the man’s wrist and pinpricks around his brow, consistent with the “crown of thorns” mockingly pressed onto Christ before his crucifixion.

Many experts have stood by a 1988 carbon-14 dating of scraps of the cloth carried out by labs in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona that dated it from 1260 to 1390 — well more than 1,000 years after the time of Christ.

The new test, by scientists at the University of Padua in northern Italy, used the same fibers from the 1988 tests but disputes the earlier findings. The new examination dates the shroud to between 300 B.C. and 400 A.D., which would put it in the era of Christ.

It determined that the earlier results may have been skewed by contamination from fibers used to repair the cloth when it was damaged by fire in the Middle Ages, the British newspaper reported. The cloth has been kept at the cathedral since 1578.

The new tests also supported earlier results claiming to have found traces of dust and pollen on that shroud that could only have come from the Holy Land.

The latest findings are contained in a new Italian-language book — “Il Mistero Della Sindone,” or “The Mystery of the Shroud,” by Giulio Fanti, a professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at the University of Padua, and journalist Saverio Gaeta.

Fanti, a Catholic, used infrared light and spectroscopy — the measurement of radiation intensity through wavelengths — in his test. He said the results are the outcome of 15 years of research.

New technologies at the service of faith, meditation and knowledge: a new App as an Evangelization tool aimed at approaching the Holy Linen in a multimedia manner, as of March 29.  VATICAN INSIDER, ROME  


A History of St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt's Sinai ( including icons and videos)

A History of St. Catherine's Monastery, by John Watson

The Monastery of St. Catherine, also known as the Monastery of the Transfiguration, is located in a triangular area between the Desert of El-Tih, the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba in the Sinai. It is situated at an altitude of 4854 feet in a small, picturesque gorge. It is a region of wilderness made up of granite rock and rugged mountains which, at first glance, seems inaccessible. In fact, while small towns and villages have grown up on the shores of the two gulfs, only a few Bedouin nomads roam the mountains and arid land inland. Well known mountains dominate this region, including Mount Sinai (2,285 meters), Mount St.Catherine (2,637 meters), Mount Serbal (2,070 meters) and Mount Episteme.

This is the region through which Moses is said to have led his people, eventually to the Promised Land, and there are legends of their passing in many places. Of course, one of the most exceptional locations is that of Mount Sinai, where Moses met with God who delivered to him the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Obviously, the region is sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.

While grazing his flocks on the side of Mt. Horeb, Moses came upon a burning bush that was, miraculously, unconsumed by its own flames. A voice speaking out of the fire (Exodus 3:1-13) commanded him to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt and return with them to the mountain. Upon his return Moses twice climbed the mountain to commune with God. Regarding the second ascent, Exodus 24: 16-18 states: And the glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and the seventh day God called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. And the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel. And Moses entered into the midst of the cloud, and went up into the mount; and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights. During this time on the mountain Moses received two tablets upon which God had inscribed the Ten Commandments, as well as precise dimensions for the Arc of the Covenant, a portable box-like shrine that would contain the tablets. Soon thereafter, the Arc of the Covenant was constructed and Moses and his people departed from Mount Sinai.

The Arc of the Covenant and its supposedly divine contents are one of the great mysteries of antiquity. According to archaic textual sources the Arc was a wooden chest measuring three feet nine inches long by two feet three inches high and wide. It was lined inside and out with pure gold and was surmounted by two winged figures of cherubim that faced each other across its heavy gold lid. Some scholars believe that the Arc may have contained, in addition to the Tablets of the Law, pieces of meteorites and highly radioactive rocks. In the ensuing two hundred and fifty years, between the time it was taken from Mount Sinai to when it was finally installed in the temple in Jerusalem, the Arc was kept for two centuries at Shiloh, was captured by the Philistines for seven months, and then, returned to the Israelites, it was kept in the village of Kiriath-Jearim. During this entire time it was associated with numerous extraordinary phenomena, many of which involved the killing or burning of often large numbers of people. Passages in the Old Testament give the impression that these happenings were divine actions of Yahweh, the god of the Hebrews. Contemporary scholars, however, believe that there may be another explanation.

Some have suggests that the Arc, and more precisely its mysterious contents, may have been a product of ancient Egyptian magic, science and technology. Moses, being highly trained by the Egyptian priesthood, was certainly knowledgeable in these matters and thus the astonishing powers of the Arc and its 'Tablets of the Law' may have derived from archaic Egyptian magic rather than the mythical god Yahweh. However, it should be noted that this comes from an alternative school of thought.

On the peak of Jebel Musa stands a small chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity. This chapel, constructed in 1934 on the ruins of a 16th century church, is believed to enclose the rock from which God made the Tablets of the Law. In the western wall of this chapel is a cleft in the rock where Moses is said to have hidden himself as Gods glory passed by (Exodus 33:22). Seven hundred and fifty steps below the summit and its chapel is the plateau known as Elijahs Basin, where Elijah spent 40 days and nights communing with God in a cave. Nearby is a rock on which Aaron, the brother of Moses, and 70 elders stood while Moses received the law (Exodus 24:14). Northwest of Elijahs plateau hardy pilgrims visit Jebel Safsaafa, where Byzantine hermits such as St. Gregory lived and prayed. Beneath the 2168 meter summit of Ras Safsaafa stands the Plain of ar-Raaha, where camped the Israelites at the time Moses ascended the mountain and where Moses erected the first tabernacle.

Currently there is no archaeological evidence that the granite peak of Jebel Musa Mount Sinai on the Sinai Peninsula is the actual Mount Sinai of the Old Testament and various scholars, such as Emmanuel Anati, writing in his comprehensive study, The Mountain of God, have proposed several alternative locations. The association of Jebel Musa with the Biblical Mount Sinai seems to have first developed in the 3rd century AD when hermits living in caves on the mountain began to identify their mountain with the ancient holy peak.

Monastic life started at a very early period in the region around Mount Sinai. Christian hermits began to gather at Sinai from the Middle of the 3rd Century. St. Antony, who retreated into Egypt's Eastern Desert, inspired many others to cast off their worldly possessions and many of them settled at the foot of Mount Sinai, along with other nearby mountains, especially Mount Serbal, where they led a life of strict spiritual and corporal discipline.

The life that these early hermits followed was neither easy or safe. The 4th and 5th centuries were particularly troublesome times, when Christians were not only persecuted, but suffered from barbarian assaults. The monk, Ammonius of Egypt, wrote a Discourse upon the Holy Fathers slain on Mount Sinai and at Raitho, and there is much other documentation of the massacre and martyrdom of the Holy Fathers of the Sinai and Raitho by the Hagarenes and the Blemmyes of Africa, particularly during the Roman reign of Diocletian. This nevertheless did not prevent the development of monasticism in the Sinai desert, nor did it prevent the fame of many of the hermits from spreading both East and West.

Small monastic communities formed very early in the Sinai, particularly at Mount Horeb, thought to be the site of the Burning Bush and in the Wadi Feiran (ancient Pharan). The anchorites lived in caves, stone-built cells and huts. They spent their days in silence, prayer and sanctity.

Tradition holds that, in 330 AD, in response to a request by the ascetics of the Sinai, the Byzantine empress Helena (St. Helen) ordered the building of a small church, dedicated to the Holy Virgin, at the site of the Burning Bush, as well as a fortified enclosure where the hermits could find refuge from the attacks of primitive nomadic tribes.

Now, the South Sinai became a place of pilgrimage that was visited by many from far away lands. In 1884, a manuscript was discovered that relates a visit to the area by Aetheria between 372 and 374 AD. She was a Spanish noblewoman who was accompanied by a retinue of clerics. She relates finding a small church on the summit of Mount Sinai, another one on Mount Horeb and a third one at the site of the Burning Bush, near which there was a fine garden with plenty of water.

Her account clearly reveals the expansion of monasticism in the Sinai desert. In fact, by the 5th century, the growing population of hermits was apparently headed by a dignitary, mentioned as the Bishop of Pharan, who's office was eventually taken over by the Bishop of Sinai. With this development apparently came a request by the Sinai monks, to Justinian, the Byzantium emperor, for assistance. He thus founded a magnificent church, which he enclosed within walls strong enough to withstand attacks and protect the monks against nomadic raids, which today is known to us as the Monastery of St. Catherine.

By the 7th century, the Monastery faced a dangerous situation and a grave crisis, mainly due to the Arab conquest. Although information on this period is scant, one source tells that by the year 808, the number of monks in the monastery had been reduced to thirty, while Christian life on the Sinai peninsula had all but vanished. However, the monastery itself did not vanish.

According to tradition, and evident from indirect information, the Fathers of the Monastery requested the protection of Mohammed himself, who saw the Christians as brothers in faith. Apparently, the request was favorably accepted and the so called ahtiname, or "immunity covenant" by Mohammed instructed his followers to protect the monks of the Sinai. Though this document has been a matter of controversy, it is doubtful that the monastery could have survived without the protection afforded by Mohammed and his successors.

The 11th century marked a new period for the monks of the Sinai. There was a transfer of relics of St. Catherine to France, and the presence of Crusaders in the Sinai between 1099 and 1270 spurred the interest of European Christians for the security and independence of the monks and for the safeguard of the land properties (dependencies) owned by the Monastery in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Crete, Cyprus and Constantinople.

The fact that a castle presupposes a military force accounts for the mention some authors make of a military order of St. Catherine, founded in 1063, which would thus antedate any other military order. No trace has been found, however, of the rule of any such order, or of a list of its grand masters. From the Crusades the Monastery of St. Catherine attracted many Latin pilgrims, who gradually formed a brotherhood, the members of which pretended to the knighthood. In return for a vague promise to protect sacred shrines and pilgrims, they were granted the coveted St. Catherine's Cross. The carved wooden portal giving access to the Narthex of the Katholikon (the earliest church in the monastery, built about the same time as the enclosure wall) and the various lain inscriptions in the old Refectory date from those years. Interestingly though, the Monastery had a Muslim garrison during the same period, so the Fathers had to maintain a delicate balance between the Christians of the West and the Muslims of the region. In fact, to this day an ancient Mosque, dating from the 10th or 11th century, sits within the walls of the Monastery.

The Roman Popes at times defended the rights of the Monastery with various bulls and proclamations. Pope Honorius III in 1217, Pope Gregory X (1271-1276), Pope John XXII (1316-1334), Pope Benedict XII in 1358, Pope Innocent VI in 1360, all expressed in many ways their goodwill for the monastery, and interceded in favor of the Monastery's privileges in Crete, Cyprus and other places.

Others also came to their aid. The Doges of Venice regulated with official documents the attitude of the Dukes of Crete concerning the Monastery's dependencies on the island. They ruled in favor of the monks' interests, granted tax exemptions and sometimes permitted even the collection of funds to aid the monastery. The Venetians, as well as other Christians of the West, respected the monastery's ships, which sailed the seas flying the banner of St. Catherine with the Saint's monogram (AK).

Even though the Monastery of St. Catherine, since the time of the Arab conquest of Egypt, has been situated in a mostly Islamic region, communication with Constantinople never stopped and the relations with Byzantium were close. A number of documents reveal decisions and actions on the part of a number of Byzantine emperors, extending financial assistance to the monastery. The official attitude and opinion of the Byzantines with regard to the Monastery and its prestige is expressed in a letter by the patriarch of Constantinople Gennadio (1454), addressed to "the most honorable among monks, Kyr Maximos, by his worldly name Sophianos, and to all the most blessed hieromonks and monks practicing asceticism in the holy Monastery of Sinai". He calls the Sinai "our pride", indicating the great esteem and reverence in which the Orthodox held one of the worlds oldest Christian monasteries.

Even Turkish Sultans, in particular Selim I and Suleiman the Magnificent, at times issued favorable decrees exempting the Monastery from custom duties, which helped it attain great prosperity. On several different occasions, the Turkish Sultans defended the interests of the Monastery against the claims of powerful Jews on the Sinai. At the same time, Christian kings of Europe and other important rulers gave financial assistance and presented the monastery with generous donations.

When Napoleon conquered Egypt in 1798, he placed the monastery under his protection. The documents confirming this status, and which recognizes older privileges granted to the monastery, are now kept in the monastery's gallery.

Through the 14th century, many thousands of pilgrims came annually to the monastery, even though the journey from Cairo took eight days by foot and camel. Following the Reformation, the popularity of Christian pilgrimage drastically declined until, during the mid 1900s, no more than 80 to100 pilgrims made the arduous journey each year. In the 1950s the Egyptian government paved roads leading to oil fields and mines along the western Sinai coast and also developed a dirt track to the foot of Jebel Musa and the monastery, which allowed increasing numbers of secular tourists to travel in taxis from Cairo. The completion of a paved road further increased the number of visitors to Jebel Musa. Bus service to and from Cairo became available on a daily basis in 1986 and today it is not uncommon for a hundred or more pilgrims and tourists to visit the ancient sacred site in a single day. Currently Greek Orthodox monks tend the monastery and its extraordinary collection of Byzantine art and illuminated manuscripts.

It is not known when or how the monastery obtained possession of the remains of St Catherine of Alexandria and adopted her name. According to legend her body was transported thither by the hands of angels. The name, however, does not appear in literature before the tenth century.

The Icons of St. Catherine's Monastery

The Monastery of St. Catherine in Egypt's Sinai is a wonderful place to visit, interesting in every respect, but it is not famous throughout the world simply for its facilities nestled up against the foot of Mount Sinai. The monastery has one of the largest collections of ancient illuminated manuscripts in the world, as well as one of the most important collections of icons. Here, we will examine the icons, which number over 2,000, large and small, some unique masterpieces while others are simple works of art. They are spread throughout the complex, with some in the Katholikon, the chapels, the icon gallery, the sacristy and even in the monks' cells. They were produced during various periods between the 6th and 19th century, with every period adding new treasures to the monastery's vast collection.

Encaustic Icons

The encaustic technique uses wax and vegetal pigments mixed at high temperature and spread on a wooden surface, and the icons produced with this technique are of considerable historical and artistic value. This method required the artist to create a preliminary drawing of the subject on wood, or very rarely, marble panels and then apply the still warm mixture to the surface using either a brush or a hot iron. The artist would then work on the colors by rubbing the mixture into the painted surface using a special instrument. The mixture penetrates deeply into the pores of the material and when it cooled the colors become indelible.
The earliest icons were produced using the encaustic technique, which was used until the 7th century AD, when it was replaced by the secco or tempera painting. The famous portraits of the dead found in great numbers in the Fayoum were produced in this manner, and the Monastery of St. Catherine has a number of important encaustic icons.

Icons of Monastic Eastern Art of the 7th-9th Century

The icons present within the monaster from this group come from local workshops active in monasteries of the East, particularly Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Cappadocia. What is distinctive about these icons is that they come from a period when the Arab conquest precluded most of the contact between Eastern regions and the Christian Greek centers. Hence, they are products of folk art, less refined in character, and they make use of a primitive realism to give expression to the local tradition of the Coptic and Syrian Churches. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that these rare icons have been one of the main sources that contributed in shaping Christian art in the following centuries.

Icons Dating from the 9th to the 12th Century

There were two characteristics that defined the development of icons during this period. First, they illustrate the continuation of pre-iconoclastic painting tradition into the post iconoclastic period and second, they show a turn toward the classical concept of art, reflected in the delicacy of drawing and the beauty of form.
Many of these important icons came from the imperial ateliers of Byzantium, including one with scenes from the story of King Abgar, where we find the earliest representation of the Holy Mandylion. Others are portraits of Christ, the Archangels, Saints, hierarchs and hermits. Illuminated manuscripts were produced in great numbers during this period, including Gospel-books, synaxaries and other texts, and the very significant art of miniature painting had a more general influence on iconography.

Icons of the Comenian Age (1080-1200 AD)

During the Comenian Age, icon painting was continued in the great tradition of the earlier Macedonian school, with works of classicist tendency, provincial character or monastic inspiration, depending on the place and environment from which they originated. The Monastery of St. Catherine has in its possession a large collection of icons from this period representing all three trends. Characteristics of these icons include a well balanced layout of compositions, the forceful expression of figures, the harmony of color schemes and the tendency toward dematerialization combined with a refined sense of nobility and grace.

Icons on Iconostasis Epistyles

Icons such as these, dating from the 11th to the 14th Century, were painted as a frieze along the entire length of the upper part, or epistyle of wood-carved icon screens. Those in the monastery collection, for the most part, came from various chapels within the monastery. The most important of these has seven scenes depicting the life of St. Eustratios.

Typically, the subjects that adorn these screens are of the Great Deesis, scenes from the Dodecaorton (cycle of the Twelve Feasts), scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary and miracles of the Saints. These paintings are masterly executed in fine color, while the figures are portrayed with spiritual intensity and lively movement. In general, the icons of this group reveal a workmanship of high artistic standard with marked traces of a great tradition in icon painting.


The painting of menologia has its roots in the miniature illustration of manuscripts, and particularly those of the 11th and 12th centuries. Menologia icons depict the Saints honored on each day of the ecclesiastical year, and they form another large and significant category of icons in the monastery's collection. They come in a variety of forms, including twelve large icons composed of full-length portraits of the Saints of each month, two large icons in diptych form, comprising all the Saints of the ecclesiastical year and a four-wing icon and twelve wing icon of Saints and Martyrs portrayed in successive rows. The inspiration and subjects of these icons are mainly derived from the illuminated menologia of Symeon Metaphrastes (11th century) that have come from Constantinople. Some of these menologia have double inscriptions, both Greek and Iberian, which disclose a close relation between the Monastery of St. Catherine and the Church of Georgia.


"Sinaitic" Icons

The Monastery of St. Catherine's collection of icons include a large group that are specific to the monastery, mostly dating from the 12th to the 15th century. They consist of portraits of important individuals associated with the Monastery. They usually represent monks, abbots, patriarchs and Saints, but include depictions of the Prophet Moses, St. Catherine, St. John Climacus and others. Most of these icons were almost certainly painted in the Monastery itself, and their varied style, technique and quality depend largely on the artistic skill of the painter. They are important because they represent an important source of information on the Monastery's history and art, as well as the general activity of notable people who lived in the monastery.

Icons of the 13th century and the Palaeologan Age

The Monastery collection contains a considerable number of icons dating to the 13the Century, and an even larger number number of icons continues the tradition into the 14th and 15th centuries, known as the age of Palaeologi. This was a period of new artistic trends that first made their appearance in the 13th century, with a tendency to renovate elements of plasticity and revert to normal proportions in the treatment of masses. In fact, the 13th century prepared the way for the art of the so-called Palaeologan Revival.

A variety of style is a characteristic of this period. Notable icons from this period come from the hermitages of Southern Italy to the Venetian ruled islands of the Aegean, from the delicate technique of artists at Constantinople to the decorative character of Cypriot painting. All of these different styles wee represented and assimilated at the Monastery of St. Catherine.

By the late Byzantine period (Palaeologan age), iconography no longer adhered to the established traditional standards. Those who painted icons followed new currents and trends dominated by a more realistic treatment of figures and scenes. Their works are characterized by freedom of expression and variety of type and by novel subject matter and compositions with many figures. These works would eventually give rise to the art of the post-Byzantine period, particularly of the 16th century, by enriching the iconographic cycles and remaining open to the influences from the art of the West and the Renaissance.

Post-Byzantine Cretan Icons

The Monastery of St. Catherine, sometimes also known as the Monastery of Sinai, is known to have maintained a close and enduring relationship with Crete, mostly through the Church of St. Catherine at Herakleion and later, in the years of the Turkish occupation, through the small Sinaitic Church of St. Matthew at Candia. Therefore, the existence of works by celebrated painters of the "Cretan School" in the monastery's icon collection is hardly surprising.

The Grand Mosaic of the Transfiguration

One work within the Monastery's main church (Katholikon), decorating the sanctuary apse, is particularly notable. The subject of the Transfiguration is very appropriate to this holy site, which is associated with the two instances when God was "seen" by the Prophet Moses and by the Prophet Elijah, the latter of whom had felt God as a light breeze on Mount Horeb, below the Peak of the Decaloque).

In addition,  you will find here  two videos on the conservation of the Transfiguration mosaic at St. Catherine Monastery, Sinai. Enjoy!

The Power Of Art, by Simon Schama (BBC Series)

The Power of Art is a BBC documentary series written and presented by Simon Schama, published on 28 Dec 2012. He introduces eight figures with a selection of artworks. Caravaggio, Van Gogh, Picasso are some of them. Visions of beauty or a rush of intense pleasure are impregnated with pain, desire, pity, even revulsion. 

Armenian Cultural Traditions & Videos on Armanian Icons

     Armenians express their beliefs and characteristics through tangible and intangible creations that relate to their culture. The art of the Armenian people is a product of their history and world culture.

Folk art and culture play a great role in the identity of the Armenian people. Many Armenians explore the world surrounding them through symbols. The most important of these symbols include "The Sacred Mountain," "The World as a Garden," and "The Khachkar" (Armenian Cross-Stone).

"The Sacred Mountain," known as Mount Ararat, is usually linked with the resting place of Noah’s ark. Mount Ararat, which first belonged to the Republic country of Armenia, is now located in present-day Turkey.

Mount Ararat also symbolizes the struggles that Armenians went through in trying to keep their faith and unity. Although Armenians are physically separated from their sacred Ararat Mountain, they claimed to have never been too distant from it in spirit. The mountain appears before the eyes of those living in the capital of Armenia, Yerevan. This sight inspires many artisans and painters to constantly reproduce its image. For all intensive purposes, the mountain has become the "calling card" of Armenia.

"The World as a Garden" is another symbol for the identity of the Armenian culture. It portrays the vital culture in which Armenians cultivated grapes for the wine and raised cattle.

Many centuries before the Church of the Holy Cross was built at Lake Van, Armenians had read and learned about the Bible’s legend of the Garden of Eden. From this and many other biblical stories, Armenians believed to be somewhat connected to the holy lands described in Genesis 2:8-15.

Another symbol to the Armenian identity is "The Khachkar," which is a memorial stone unique to the country of Armenia. It is a rectangular block of stone that is carved into the Armenian cross. The portion of the stone in which the cross is engraved always faces the west.

Khachkars are found almost everywhere in Armenia, mostly by monasteries, crossroads, mountain ledges, springs and bridges. The design of the Armenian cross mirrors some of the designs preferred during the 4th century, which was around the time Christianity was first adopted by Armenians. The winged Armenian cross has a busy design with the lower part being slightly longer than the arms and the top of the cross. There are no two similar designs of the Armenian cross expect for the two unique wings.

Another important aspect of the Armenian culture is music and dance. The heritage of the Armenian dance is perceived to be one of the oldest and richest forms seen in the near east. Many rock statues and paintings of Armenian dancing remain from ancient times.

The music of Armenia is a very traditional one. Armenian music is mostly accompanied by musical instruments and is usually followed by the feasts and festivals being celebrated. In its recent years, Armenians have created new styles of music while staying true to old customs. This is supported in the present day by the world-class Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra, performing at the Opera House in the capital of Armenia, Yerevan.

Of all the aspects of the Armenian culture, the one that keeps the people united and has allowed for their perseverance to this day is the Armenian language and alphabet. The Armenian language is Indo-European, but linguists classify Armenian as an independent branch from other Indo-European languages. It has been spoken since at least 800 B.C.

It is the official language of the Republic of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The language is also spoken very commonly among Armenian communities in the Armenian Diaspora. The creation of the Armenian alphabet and continuance of this unique language have kept the Armenian public alive and strong, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The Armenian people have overcome many obstacles throughout their history and continue to do so today; these challenging hindrances are evident in the cultural traditions. The Armenian people express their beliefs, histories, and lifestyles through the use of art, music, religion, architecture and books. These one of a kind expressions of culture exist within the core of the Armenian identity.

Armenian Cultural Traditions & Icons
Christine Kojayan

Videos on Icons in Early Armenia, by Thomas F. Mathews, Professor Emeritus of the History of Art, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University


Here you will find a comment by Sandro Magister  about a series of broadcasts of a wonderful mosaics from the 12th century  at Monreale Cathedral, based on the Credo. The first of twelve episodes of “Il Credo nei mosaici di Monreale," will be published on Sunday, April 21. It will illustrate the first article of the profession of faith: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”

ROME, April 18, 2008 – In his last Wednesday general audiences, before renouncing the papacy, Benedict XVI had begun to explain the “Credo." His successor, Francis, has decided to continue the work.

The "Credo" is the first breath of the newborn Christian. It is all of a piece with Baptism, it is proclaimed at Sunday Mass, it is the identity card of the believer. “The faith is as we say in the Credo,” Pope Francis reiterated in a recent morning homily. The whole faith - he added - without subtractions, without reductions, without compromises.

This is the reason that - in this year of faith - induced TV 2000, the channel of the Italian episcopal conference, to put the “Credo” at the center of an original series of broadcasts, beginning on Sunday, April 21.

But how?

With the forms, the colors, the light of that masterpiece unique in the world which are the mosaics of the cathedral of Monreale, in Sicily.

In twelve episodes like the twelve apostles, Sunday after Sunday, each article of the “Credo” will be narrated and presented to the viewer from inside that very cathedral, illuminated by its wonderful mosaics from the 12th century.

The narrator will be Fr. Innocenzo Gargano, a Camaldolese monk, a master of the Sacred Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church. A narrator in the proper sense of the word. Because the “Credo” is not an arid list of dogmas. It is the living history of the action of God with men and for men. It is "historia salutis" with its summit in the Christ "Pantocrator" that dominates the apse of the cathedral of Monreale.

Step by step, from inside the cathedral, Fr. Innocenzo will unveil the “spirit” of the images and therefore of the sacred narration, following the outline of the articles of the “Credo.”

He will alternate with the art historian Sara Magister, who will illustrate the “letter,” the iconography of the same images, from the studios of TV 2000 in Rome.

One will thus embark upon an adventure without equal, from the first moments of creation to the coming of Jesus to the heavenly Jerusalem. An adventure revisited precisely in the place in which these same images become sacramental reality, when the Eucharist is celebrated on the altar.

More than eighty years ago the cathedral of Monreale was visited by Romano Guardini, an Italian-German theologian very dear to Joseph Ratzinger and Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Guardini attended the rites of Holy Week in the packed church, and was struck by the attitude of the faithful:

"The women with their veils, the men with their cloaks around their shoulders. Everywhere could be seen distinguished faces and a serene bearing. Almost no one was reading, almost no one stooped over in private prayer. Everyone was watching intently, everyone was rapt in contemplation."

The director of TV 2000, Dino Boffo, said in presenting the new program:

"The believers who over the past nine centuries had the opportunity to turn their gaze upward and admire the mosaics of the cathedral of Monreale were for the most part illiterate, but not for this reason fatally destined to remain in ignorance. The nourishment of the faith came through the charm of the beautiful, of the majestic. ' One day we will look upon that beautiful face of the Risen One,' Pope Francis said to the cardinals who had just elected him. And so, one foretaste of that unfathomable beauty is precisely in the vault of the apse of Monreale, where the mosaics that decorate the walls of the cathedral converge.”

The twelve episodes of “Il Credo nei mosaici di Monreale," each of them half an hour long, will be broadcast every Sunday at 8:30 in the morning and replayed at 3:30 pm.

The first episode, on Sunday, April 21, will illustrate the first article of the profession of faith: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”

TV 2000 can be seen in Italy on cable channel 28 and satellite channel 142 of Sky.

But the program can also be seen via streaming all over the world, on the website of the channel.

by Sandro Magister

Our Vocation Today: A Conference by Abbot Paul Stonham, OSB

            I don’t know about you, but these past few months I’ve felt quite unsettled and disorientated, as though I were living in a dream. First of all, the resignation of Pope Benedict: could it really be? There was that feeling of confusion, of bereavement without a death. Then the election of Pope Francis and again: is this really happening? At times it was as though I were living through a film or a novel, believing that I would wake up at any moment and realize it was only a dream. If it was like for me, then what must it have been like, perhaps still is like, for the protagonists themselves. I often think of Benedict, of what he must be doing now, at this very moment, and of Francis, of how he must be coping, just when he was planning to retire and take things easy for the first time in his life. But in the Church, Christ has called us to serve and to be faithful to the end, so no retirement and certainly no taking things easy for any of us in the struggle against sin and in the fight to be good.

            How should we not be disorientated and confused, when this is the first time that we have ever lived through such an historic transition? What’s more, no one else has lived through this experience and written about it, telling us how it is. Even so, there is one thing that has struck me throughout and it’s this: there is something very powerful and particular that unites these two men, these two Popes and, as it were, fuses their ministries into one: a holy stillness, a divinely inspired calm, a spirit of contemplation, the effusion of peace, that reminds us of the words of Jesus, which we repeat every day at Mass. “Peace I leave you; my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.” (Jn 14:27) Perhaps the most moving moment that exemplified this was when Benedict and Francis met at Castel Gandolfo and prayed together, sharing the silence of God’s presence as they knelt side by side.

            What has struck me most, with all that’s been said and written these past few weeks, is that no one has mentioned the centrality of prayer, and of the prayer of silence, contemplative prayer, in the lives of these two extraordinary men. It seems strange particularly after what Pope Benedict said would be his main occupation in retirement: to pray for the Church and to accompany her in prayer. This above all has helped me to make sense of what is taking place in the Church today. It has also helped me calm my own anxieties about the Church, about the modern world, about life and what it’s all about, everything, in fact: living in the presence of God, being centered on Christ, opening one’s whole being to the grace of the Holy Spirit, in other words, the centrality and vital importance of contemplative prayer to the lives of all Christians, and especially of us monks.

            What Pope Benedict taught us by his example was that liturgical prayer, the celebration of the sacraments, was more than a concentration on and an understanding of the texts, more even than entering into the mystery being celebrated, it was to be immersed in the profound silence of the heart of God, being taken up into the Godhead, as it were. What you sensed and experienced when he presided over any celebration was that he was in total communion with God, that he had already crossed the threshold and was living that new dimension, that new life of the Risen Lord. He somehow rose above and beyond the splendor and grandeur of the occasion and was in a state of contemplation. That surely is the model to follow, the model of Christ himself, who, though incarnate, was nevertheless in perfect communion and harmony with the Father and the Holy Spirit. As we recall our Baptism this Eastertide and our immersion into the Mystery of Christ, we pray that our own humble offerings at Divine Office and Conventual or Parish Mass may follow the same path forged for us by Pope Benedict.

            Now I know that in many ways Pope Francis is very different, but the differences I feel are superficial and of little importance. Of course, they are what the media and his critics within the Church have already latched on to as though a bit of lace had the importance of the dogma of the Holy Trinity or that red Prada shoes were more important than the Incarnation. It’s the substance that matters, and what strikes me is that, in his simple Latin American way, Francis has that same spirit of contemplative prayer which he brings to each celebration and public occasion. Like Benedict, when he stands before the vast crowd of worshippers or the merely curious, he is completely focused on Christ and with him in communion with the Father through the indwelling of the Spirit. As we pray now for his pontificate and for the good of the Church and the salvation of all men, let us also pray that this spirit of silence and peace, of tenderness and respect, will also permeate our own Christian lives and our daily monastic prayer. I know it can be difficult as there are so many distractions, but even our distractions be contemplative and, above all, charitable and good humored. The important thing with distractions is to humbly accept and incorporate them into our prayer, turning them into prayer, and not rejecting them, thereby making them an issue with the devil himself and so asking for trouble.

            Thinking of our vocation as Benedictine monks, no matter what work we end up doing or the fact that we are often called upon to change the type of work we do and the place we do it in, we are not and cannot be identified by our work, as these positions are temporary, and, in any case, life moves on and we are soon gone. It is not what we do, no matter how important that may seem, that matters, but who we are and who we are truly called to be. St Therese of the Child Jesus discovered her vocation to be “love in the heart of the Church.” What, then, is our vocation? Going back to what I said about the Holy Fathers Benedict and Francis, I believe our vocation is to be exactly what our motto says, “Pax”, i.e. peace at the heart of the Church, “a peace that world cannot give”, Christ’s peace, which is the fruit of prayer, of inner stillness and of focusing on Christ alone amid a myriad temptations, distractions, good works, duties and everything else that makes up our daily life. People who come into contact with us should sense and enjoy and breathe in the peace of Christ. Our brethren should find in us men of peace and a source of their peace. Each one of us should discover in himself that “peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding”, that peace which will “keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.” (Phil 4:7) Amen.

Conference given by Abbot Paul Stonham on 17th April 2013