Religious Studies

Icon of Nativity

On the outskirts of otherwise urban Orange County is a small unincorporated, relatively undeveloped canyon called Silverado Canyon. It is within this undeveloped rural canyon that Saint Michael’s Abbey finds its home. While the church, with its high concrete walls and stained glass windows, is an icon in and of itself, the interior contains six side chapels along the nave. These side chapels correspond with various days of creation and also include their own unique painted icons. One of these icons depicts the nativity scene. At the center of the icon is baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling and sitting in a manger. Mother Mary is depicted sitting behind Jesus with her arm at his side. Mary and Jesus are shown looking at a cow and a horse, which in turn, are looking back at Jesus. Finally, saint Joseph is depicted outside the manger looking at his family and the animals while motioning with his hands.

In this icon, Jesus Christ is depicted as a baby, although having just had a newborn myself, I realize the baby in the icon is much older and more capable than a typical newborn. A Franciscan idea that came into my head about this icon is how Jesus Christ is sitting at eye level with the animals. The animals shown are looking back, seemingly in an acknowledging type of fashion. I get a sense Jesus is conveying, in not so many words, “I love you,” and the animals are acknowledging that “they know.” (Think Star Wars Princess Leia and Han Solo exchange). Although God had just arrived on earth, he was, as Clare identified, “wrapped in poor swaddling clothes and placed in a manger.” Yet, despite this poverty, his birth seems appropriate, ordered, and exactly how things needed to be. I smile thinking about this icon because of the Franciscan ideology of brother and sister creatures, which adds a layer of interpretation to the nativity scene I never thought about before.

As I consider the image, I realize it doesn’t convey the livestock areas I saw when I was living in the middle east and southwest Asia. Those areas are typically dirty, unsanitary, filled with feces, and not meant for human habitation. Additionally, as I mentioned, Jesus in the icon appears more like a 6-month-old plus than a newborn; however, given that icons are meant to be “read,” I can understand why things were drawn the way they were.

Religious Studies
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