THE ICON FOR KIDS
DESCRIPTION OF IMAGES

BY DESMOND KYNE

 

Here is Edmund Rice at the centre of this icon. The artist is keen to show him as commanding, relaxed and intent. He is a person of strength and vision. His eyes are large, taking everything in and revealing his compassion and understanding.

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This great whirling spiral, is a symbol for God as creator bringing everything into being and calling others to help in the creative process too. For thousands of years this has been the favorite way of the Celts to depict their sense of the Sacred. This great whirling spiral has an abundance of energy-something that Edmund was remarkable for even into his old age.

The spiral is also in flames representing the action of the Holy Spirit which set Edmund on fire with love for all, especially the poor. It acted like the fire which draws us to its warmth when everything about us is cold.

Now imagine the vortex in the middle having no beginning but spiralling out to embrace everything. Edmund lived in that presence finding it in church, yes, but particularly among the poor. And in the way he put money to work for the poor he makes us realise that God is to be found in the world of business and finance as well. This is his special gift for our time.

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From ancient times Celtic people associated the feminine with God. It was easy for them therefore to hear the story of Mary and see her as the Mother of God with very special powers of intercession and presence.

Rings of fire surround the haloes of mother and child and evoke a lovely prayer poem from the Eastern Church in which Mary is praised and likened to: "The fiery chariot of God….the brightest morning….bearing the sun Christ." There are links here to Newgrange the 5 000 year old religious monument celebrating the winter solstice, around which Christmas was later celebrated. There are also dots around the halo representing the rosary, called in Gaelic, Mary’s crown. It was a prayer very familiar to Edmund.

Mary is looking directly at us. Jesus turns and looks at Edmund, and with a positive gesture recommends him to Mary. God’s mother is being offered to replace Edmund’s lost loved ones – Mary his young wife, who was tragically killed in a riding accident, and in another sense, Mary his only child. From ancient times Celtic people associated the feminine with God. It was easy for them therefore to hear the story of Mary and see her as the Mother of God with very special powers of intercession and presence.

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Here we have bird-like shapes moving outwards and downwards repeating themselves in waves of movement. Edmund permitted the Holy spirit to flow through his being, like the wind moves in the trees, or music through a perfect instrument.

Edmund was completely open to the Spirit moving creatively within him, through his life, and in his work. You will find many different symbols for the Holy Spirit throughout the icon.

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We find him as water, as spirals, as the streaming air in the skies, as flames and fire, as bird shapes, as light, as the well of living water, and so on.

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This dark bird shape, part eagle, part raven, is a symbol of evil which touches Edmund, and the two nuns whom he was very devoted to. (Point at their picture to learn more.) We don’t have to look far to encounter this presence of evil in our world.

The symbol for evil here stems from some of the ancient stories of the Celtic heroes and how they contended with evil.

The same sinister symbol rising from off the green fields of Ireland is a reminder that during Edmund’s early life the people of Ireland were still subject to Dublin Castle, the seat of British power in Ireland. Edmund himself experienced many occasions of harassment while he attempted to work on behalf of the poor.

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This is a scene from Edmund’s boyhood. You can see him talking with a wise man, Br Patrick Grace, who was a friar. He, Br Patrick, had to be quite secretive in those days because you weren’t allowed to practise your religion in the open. This is how Edmund would have received his first religious instruction.

In the background is the house where he was born in "Westcourt". It was a farming community so you can see the oats gathered near it. There are four green fields behind the house representing the four main areas of Ireland. In learning the culture about these places Edmund heard the famous stories, learnt the dances and played the Gaelic games of hurling and Gaelic football.

The spiralling pool brought memories of the people who lived below the ground and were responsible for ensuring good crops and fertile seasons. Over time these sacred wells were given saints’ names and people prayed there for divine help.

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EDMUND AND HIS DAUGHTER

When Edmund’s wife, Mary, was pregnant she had a fall from a horse and was seriously injured. She died soon after giving birth and the daughter, Mary, was handicapped as a result of the fall. Edmund raised her with the help of his sister and later other relations who received money from Edmund and the brothers so that she would have what she needed.

The picture shows Edmund stroking the head of his daughter lovingly. As he looks out from the picture Edmund is appealing to us to be always most caring to people in need.

With his right hand, Edmund reaches out beyond his own family to a distressed young boy who is representative of a multitude of poor, illiterate and wretchedly disadvantaged children of Waterford. In this case, the gesture is one of friendship. Through education he was hoping that the poor would once again be able to enjoy the fruits of a rich land and become a people who loved life and enjoyed it to the full, blessing those around them and giving thanks to God for so many good things.

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From his right hand, a group of seven stars moves away and upwards. They represent the seven men who helped him lay the foundation of his work (stars also signify spiritual brightness, and faith, and the presence of the Divinity and much else).

The star second closest to his hand rests over the stable school in New Street, Waterford. It was here that Edmund Rice started his first school. This was a fairly well off neighbourhood and the neighbours were horrified to see this prominent businessman gather ragged urchins around him like this.

Nearby, another star rests beside the Presentation Convent at Hennessy Road. Edmund helped in its establishment and made sure that the sisters had sufficient money to operate their free school for the poor. When the Brothers first built their main school called Mount Sion they used to attend Mass in the sisters chapel. Can you see the little pathway linking the sisters’ little school to the main Mount Sion Building with its own star shining brightly over it?

Mount Sion was officially opened on May 1, 1804. It became a renowned centre of learning to which the likes of the distressed boy came in droves to be not only educated but clothed and fed as well.

Can you see a bolt of lightning passing through Mount Sion and penetrating the River Suir? This was his business locality. He had made quite a fortune supplying ships which came to port here. Lightning has the ability to explode as a sudden flash of energy transforming the world round about. When Edmund changed from supplying ships as a businessman to helping poor kids get an education this change was like a bolt of lightning from heaven.

In time Edmund’s efforts brought about a big change in the children of the city. School inspectors remarked on how good was the education system which he developed. And when the students eventually went out to work they were readily employed in the local businesses.

Can you see the Bishop’s staff with an H at the bottom of it? This stands for Bishop Hussey who was the Bishop when Edmund first began his education work. At first he was suspicious of Edmund’s motives, thinking that he might be wanting to be independent of any church connection. But when Edmund offered him the deeds of the property the bishop was so impressed that he much of his money to Edmund for his work.

Full marks if you can see a snake curling around between the two children with Edmund crushing its neck under his right foot! You might remember the story in the Bible where the devil, in the form of a snake, tempted Adam and Eve. God promised Adam and Eve that God would send a rescuer who would crush the head of the snake and save the people. The artist, Desmond Kyne believes that Edmund did the same thing.

Also at the feet of Edmund is the sevenfold flame representing the Holy Spirit. Edmund was always praying to the Holy spirit to guide him in this work, and also in the many business decisions he still had to make.

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Nearby is the Lamb of God, placed in opposition to the serpent. Jesus was called the Lamb of God by John the Baptist. In the Old Testament the Lamb of God was the sacrifice which took away the sins of the people. Edmund, like Jesus before him, sacrificed himself so that the people might live better lives too..

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MARY’S PRESENTATION

God, symbolised here by the spiral, inspires Mary, a devout Jewish girl. The seven branched candlestick is the Jewish symbol. When Mary’s parents dedicated her as a baby they presented her in the temple. She grew into a humble but powerful person who bore Jesus for us. The Presentation Sisters were the ones who inspired Edmund to do his education work. One of his favourite sayings was the text in the Bible: The Lord gave and the Lord takes away-blessed be the Lord forever.

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EDMUND KNEELING BEFORE CHRIST IN THE CHAPEL

Edmund was famous for spending much time in the chapel quietly praying for guidance in his work. In fact he would bring all his correspondence into chapel. This panel represents the Holy Spirit as a dynamic bird shape inspiring and consoling him in his struggles. At the centre of the powerful spiral is the communion host which is Jesus, spinning out to embrace everything and drawing everything into himself. He said once that he was like a mother hen who spreads her wings and draws her chicks in for protection.

Edmund is kneeling at the centre of what looks like a bridge. He joins together the spiritual world and the everyday world so that they are one.

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THE CHRIST HE MET IN THE EUCHARIST….

IS THE SAME CHRIST HE MEETS IN THE CLASSROOM

The kneeling Edmund in the upper panel now gives way to the standing Edmund, meeting Christ in the classroom. The host, which is Christ, now becomes the same Christ, this time with crucified hands embracing the children in the classroom.

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The classroom scene is positioned directly opposite Edmund’s supplicating hand in the centre panel, and below it, the hands are responding to the need. They had been joined: now they are open dispensing bread to a hungry boy while the Divinity spiral fills in the background. Edmund had a bakehouse established in Mount Sion, and also a tailor’s workshop: he was deeply sensitive to the wants and feelings of his pupils, and he did not wish them to experience either the pangs of hunger or the shame of being clad in rags.

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"I WAS IN PRISON AND YOU VISITED ME" (Jesus welcoming people into the Kingdom)

During this period (early nineteenth century) law-breaking was rife, and life was cheap. Prisons were miserable and crowded, and the death sentence was frequently handed down for relatively trivial offences. It became the established practice for Christian Brothers to visit prisoners in Waterford, and later in Dublin and other centres, and to accompany the condemned to the gallows.

Here, a young man, his hands tied behind his back, is being comforted as he is about to mount the steps to the gallows. (It might be one of Edmund’s former pupils.) There is a prison building and a river flowing, as it were, into the sky.

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BLESSED EDMUND

This picture is describing Edmund at the end of his life and now in heaven. Behind him is the presence of God shown by the flaming spiral coming out from the host which is the sign of Jesus’ presence on earth, and which we receive at Holy Communion time. Can you see a four-fold spiral? That represents the huge amount of love Edmund had and poured out on so many people. It is a share in the love Jesus showed when he was on earth. Can you see the symbol for the Holy Spirit there. At his feet is the motto that the Christian Brothers have used ever since his time. When we ask Jesus to live in our hearts we are wanting to have the same love that he had..

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EDMUND REVIVES A TRADITON OF THE PAST

The base line series of images links Edmund Rice with the past-a past rich in spirituality, art, culture, selfless endeavour and shining achievement. It was a past of which Edmund had a keen awareness and from which he drew inspiration, motivation and encouragement. In him, that Golden Age found a point of renewal, and to him the concept of the Island of Saints and Scholars Ireland had a long and very strong tradition in the past of monks and nuns and monasteries. From there they went out all over Europe and brought Jesus to the people at a time when Europe was in chaos. This period was called the Dark Ages because the Romans and their civilisation had been defeated and the countryside and cities were in ruins. The monks and nuns set out to restore what had been lost and were deeply loved for this.

Edmund, centuries later, set about doing the same thing for the Irish who were poor, hungry and ignorant as a result of cruel policies of their English rulers at that time. The penal laws which had kept the people down were just beginning to be lifted and he worked hard to have the process speeded up. His great friend was the politician Daniel O’Connell who called Edmund the Patriarch of the monks of the West.

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There is the boat in the first symbol bearing pilgrims for Christ from the shores of Ireland to spread the Good News. These were missionaries who would go to all the ends of the earth. The Irish Christian Brothers would be very strong in this movement. They are to be found in most parts of the world today.

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Looks a bit like Superman doesn’t he?! Here is the father figure of the monk missionaries-Colmcille, saint, scholar, poet and artist, the island of Iona, just near Scotland, nestling in a seascape, the spiral repeated once again, and the dove of the Spirit overshadowing him.

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Here is the wheeled shape of the Celtic High Cross-a cross which is unique in Christendom, with the circular sun symbol of the older religion now dominated by the cross of Christ.

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Here is Colmcille again, now an artist, a master craftsman, bent in concentration on his work. He is the patron saint of Irish artists.

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Here is a Celtic motif which leads to the age Celtic Druids and Bardic schools, sources of learning and rich tradition. Colmcille made a spirited defence of the Bards at the Convention of Drumceatt in 575 when they were threatened with abolition, and here the long and illustrious Bardic line is represented by the blind Carolan, the last of the bards. He plays his harp, and its notes are suggested in a rhythmic pattern suggested by stonework in the great doorway of St Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea.

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JOY OF COMMUNITY LIFE

Colmcille and his brother monks are relaxing together. There is food and drink, conversation and story-telling, and an atmosphere of shared peace, and contentment.

The scene evokes a lovely Irish proverb: "Is ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine." It is in the shelter of one another that the people live.

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* Here is expressed the simple beauty of an end window from Temple McDuagh in the Aran sland of Inishmore. Aran of St Enda was another great nursery of learning, and many were the saints who studied there.

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At the right of the spiral are the letters AMDG, AD MAJOREM DEI GLORIAM (OR All My Work Done For God), the Jesuit motto which also became the motto of the Presentation Brothers. Edmund was instrumental in looking after the finances of the Jesuits when they were suppressed for a time and helped them re-establish themselves at Clongowes Wood in Dublin. This was in conjunction with his close friend, Fr Peter Kenney.

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Edmund feasted on the writings of St Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite mystic of the preceding century, and there are strong similarities between the two. She was magnificently practical and expressed her profound spirituality in very plain language. She is seen here with her staff and her book "Interior Castle". Around her are some of her favourite symbols-mountains, rain, river-and there is an affinity between her features and those of Edmund-strength, vision and eyes that look into the far distance.

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THROUGH LANES OF CORK CITY –A LIGHT IN THE PENAL DARKNESS

Nano Nagle, foundress of the presentation Sisters, makes her way through the back streets. The lantern she carries became for the poor of Cork a symbol of God’s love touching and helping the realities of their hard lives.

Nano and Edmund might almost be described as spiritual twins: what she accomplished for the poverty-stricken young girls of Cork, he accomplished for the poverty-stricken young boys of Waterford. She sold everything to give to the poor, and so did he. Holy and heroic they both were, and when Edmund established his Congregation, the rule laid down by Nano for her Order was originally followed.

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A HEART OVERFLOWING WITH LOVE AND BURSTING INTO ACTION

This, for Desmond Kyne, the creator of this icon is his special symbol of the Sacred Heart. Its dynamism epitomises the source and out-flow of compassionate energy which both Nano and Edmund harnessed and worked out of.

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THE RELIGION OF THE HEARTH

Here is a scene depicting a traditional Irish event, the family Rosary. It was part of the daily routine in the Rice home, and in the panel, the woman leading the prayers represents Margaret Rice, Edmund’s mother. The curving, rhythmic shapes around the group express the mantralike manner in which the Rosary was recited, or intoned, and the all-pervasive, ever present Divinity spiral moves through the family circle. The imagery has a message for a generation which has let the tradition of the family Rosary die out.

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