icon paintingIf you thought that we only offered traditional retreats at Minsteracres you’d be wrong. Our programme also includes spirituality with a twist: from tai chi, meditation and yoga, to icon writing.

Maureen Rimmer introduced icon writing to our programme three years ago, and it has proved very popular.

“Icons are an aid to prayer,” explains Maureen, “There’s a stillness about them and wherever you find them they lend a sense of peace to the space they’re in.”

Maureen’s interest began around 20 years ago when she moved on from calligraphy to iconography.  “The origins go back to Roman times and the church of Santa Sofia in what was then Constantinople, and became popular again in the West as recently as the 1960s.

“I was particularly interested in learning about the spiritual aspect. All icons are about Christ, and the gilded halos represent God’s glory. The Christ figure is always represented with a red cross and the letters ic and xc.”

As you might imagine with such a stylised form of art, writing an icon (as it is known) demands patience and concentration.

Starting with a blank board, an outline is first scored, and the colours layered up from dark to light to give the depth of the final image. The egg tempera materials used are borrowed from the ancient Egyptians, and the halos are made from gold leaf.

Alice, who is here for the third year, explains “It starts with a blank board and progresses through utter chaos to an amazing peacefulness as the icon develops.”

“You need the Holy Spirit to bring life and order to them!” agrees Maureen. “Many people tell me they can’t even draw, but they always go away with an icon.”

In the process though, Angela, Miles, Dorothy, Pat, Veronica and Alice, all agree that the week achieves much more than a finished icon.

“It’s a good opportunity for a painter to find God’s peace in this special ancient art,” they say. “It’s like family – we develop a sense of friendship and belonging. We never see a telly or read a paper and never look at a watch. It’s creative and spiritual, like a meditation.”

“It’s the peace of God which surpasses all understanding,” says Miles. “It’s painted in prayer, for prayer from the artist’s heart and is special to them,” adds Maureen.

So special, agrees Alice, that she wants to be buried with hers, and you can’t say better than that!