Friday, 11 February 2011

The Mandorla and the Sacred Heart

Some more artistic reflections... 

The Mandorla

In iconography depictions of the Divine Light or glory are shown using a device called a mandorla. This is usually a spherical or elliptical shape found around the person of Jesus in icons of the Resurrection, Ascension, Transfiguration, the enthroned Pantocrator and the Dormition of the BVM.

In the visions of the Sacred Heart experienced by St Margaret Mary Christ was manifested in Divine Light, especially coming from his translucent Heart and the sacred wounds. In the vision of Teilhard we have the transfiguration of all things, pulsating with the Divine Light which radiates out from Christ’s breast.

Therefore the use of a mandorla in this icon is a central and key element.

Mandorlas come in two main shapes, with specific interpretations. The following information is derived mainly from Andreas Andreopoulos in his book ‘Metamorphosis – The Transfiguration in Byzantine Theology and Iconography’, SVP, New York 2005 ISBN 0-88141-295-3.

The Jewish interpretation of glory has the sense of tremendems, of a quaking fear, of the glory of God as a terrifying dwelling place. In the Christian interpretation it is something much more intimate and personal, overall about the glory of God made know in Christ and something in which we can participate after an ascetical journey. It is the transfiguration especially that is the paradigm for Christian understanding of the doxa.

To this the icon adds another element: rays. These can come either as radiating lines, often to the number 8, or as a shape that is bursting such as a square.

The mandorla is not just a shape, but a series of emanating bands, with a dark centre and light circumference, often but not always three in number. The dark centre is the unknowability of the divine, while the lightest denote that which is manifest. John Chrysostom describes the apostles as ‘darkened by excessive radiance’ and many early fathers interpreted this in terms of the ascetical ascent to theosis.  At certain times the three bands have been interpreted as representing the universe or cosmos, and the neo-Platonic idea of emanations, but rather than a bright centre around the sun, Christians inversed this so there was the darkness of Unknowing at the centre.

The Icon of the Sacred Heart

We have two possibilities for the employment of a mandorla:

Around the Heart of Christ

Around Christ

Around Christ: Here an enclusive, ‘tent’ like mandorla would express the emanation of the Light or energy of God’s love at work in Creation.

Around the Heart of Christ: the fire of Divine Love, known, Unknown but the glory of God in the sense of yeqara, not a space but an honouring of the sacred.

Rays can work in a variety of ways. I particularly am drawn to the inter-working squares such as in later icons of the transfiguration, and in the background of Christ of the powers as they show something dynamic, alive, active. In some way the rays need to inter-penetrate the figure of Christ, and His heart, and what lies around them.

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