In my last blog I told you about the exciting developments surrounding the move of the St Barnabas Society headquarters from Wolvercote to the outskirts of Littlemore – the scene of Blessed John Henry Newman’s conversion. Over the past few weeks the Argentinian artist, Marcelo Lavallen, has been working on three icons depicting scenes from the life of St Barnabas. They now grace the base of the new altar in our chapel. As expected the icons are very beautiful. I had seen previous examples of Marcelo’s work which is why I invited him to take on this project for us.
Some of those who have already seen and admired the icons encouraged Marcelo to provide an explanation of the symbolism he has employed. What follows is a description of the images he has painted. All our supporters are welcome to visit the chapel and see the icons for themselves. We are already grateful to those who have sent gifts to help with its decoration (including one from the U.S.A.) and Mass will be offered for your intentions this week. Thank you for your kindness and generosity.
This depicts St Barnabas laying the proceeds from the sale of his land “ante pedes Apostolorum” – “before the feet of the Apostles. (Acts 4:37).
“There was a Levite of Cypriot origin called Joseph whom the Apostles surnamed Barnabas (which means Son of Consolation). He owned a piece of land and sold it and brought the money and presented it to the Apostles.” (Acts 4:36-7).
To the right of St Barnabas is St Peter who is blessing his gift. To his left is Our Lady with some of the other women. Behind the figures are the walls and city of Jerusalem. The red drape is used in iconography to depict the fact that the scene takes place in doors.
This depicts St Barnabas presenting the recently converted St Paul to the Apostles in Jerusalem.
“Barnabas…took charge of him, introduced him to the Apostles and explained how the Lord had appeared to him and spoken to him on his journey and how he had preached fearlessly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9:27).
The centre figures are St Paul and St Barnabas surrounded on each side by St Peter and a group of sceptical disciples.
“When he (Paul) got to Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples but they were afraid of him: they could not believe that he was really a disciple.” (Acts 9:26).
Behind the figures is a Latin inscription from the Vulgate” “Barnabas narravit illis quomodo in via vidisset Dominum” – “Barnabas told them how he (Paul) had seen the Lord on the road.”
The right panel depicts the martyrdom of St Barnabas in Cyprus.
Tradition suggests that certain Jews came to Salamis where they knew Barnabas had been proclaiming the Gospel. Infuriated by his success and the number of conversions they fell upon him as he was disputing in the synagogue in Salamis, dragged him outside, tortured him and finally stoned him to death. His kinsman John Mark and some of the other disciples recovered his body (which was said to have been thrown into the sea) and buried it in the nearby necropolis.
The icon depicts St Barnabas holding the Gospel of St Mark with its classic symbol of a winged lion. Barnabas was reputed to carry the Gospel with him and lay it upon the sick who would then recover. It was placed upon his breast when his body was buried.
Although it is believed that Barnabas suffered death by stoning the Apocryphal Acts of Barnabas states that a rope was placed around his neck and he was then dragged to a place where he was burned alive. Both traditions are represented in the icon.
In AD 478 St Barnabas appeared in a dream to Anthemios, Archbishop of Constantia (Salamis) and revealed to him the place of his burial beneath a carob tree. The following day the tomb was discovered with the Gospel laid upon his body.
The water behind the figures indicates the island of Cyprus where the martyrdom took place.
Bishop William Kenney C.P., auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Birmingham with pastoral responsibility for Oxfordshire, has kindly agreed to bless the new chapel and offices at a date which has yet to be determined. He will celebrate Mass for the first time in the new chapel.
Marcelo will return at Christmas to paint a crucifix and an icon depicting Blessed John Henry Newman and Blessed Dominic Barberi which will both be placed in the chapel. Archbishop Bernard Longley hopes to visit our new headquarters early next year when he too will celebrate Mass and bless the new images.