Catholic art is basically made to be contemplated, its symbols conveying deep truths about salvation. Whether with holy cards or Holy Icons, there is much to be gained from meditating on their imagery.
One of the beautiful things about being a Catholic artist is getting to combine meditation with production. Whenever I set out to make a new piece, I like to investigate the stories behind the pictures -- to learn more about the meaning behind their symbols. Thus, I am contemplating the images even as I am producing them.
Take, for example, the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I wanted to understand the significance of the roses around Mary's heart, and this is what I learned... Mary’s roses represent her purity and her status as Mystical Rose of heaven. It is said that when Mary was assumed, a bed of roses appeared where her body had been. When she revealed herself to St. Juan Diego as Our Lady of Guadalupe, she caused out-of-season roses to bloom. And when she appeared to St. Bernadette at Lourdes, she had a rose upon each of her feet.
Then, there's Our Lady of Ostrabrama. Mary humbly bows her head, her hands crossed piously before her chest. Her halo emanates rays like the sun, and twelve stars encircle her head. She appears as she does in Revelation Chapter 12. She wears one crown, while tiny angels place a second crown atop the first.
I drew this copy of the famous Icon while looking at a postcard reproduction of Our Lady of Ostra Brama, which translates: Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn. The original image is a Lithuanian Carmelite Icon, located in the city of Vilnius. The history of the piece is just as fascinating as the image, and it adds depth to the meaning of its symbols....
“Gate of Dawn” was the name of the southeastern entrance to the city. The original painting hung there in a niche, even before there was a chapel. In the intervening years, it has survived invasions by Russians, anti-Catholic Swedes and Nazi Germans; two devastating fires; and being shot. Our Lady is the Queen who can't be deposed!
In 1927, Pope Pius XI gave the image the additional title Mater Misericordiae (Mother of Mercy). Then, in 1935, St. Faustina’s first commissioned Divine Mercy Jesus painting debuted in the southeastern chapel next to Our Lady of Ostra Brama. The two images associated with mercy were revered together, Mother and Son.
And that is how my framed postcard of Our Lady is displayed on my desk: next to a framed Divine Mercy Jesus print. 80 years later, these two images are reunited! I never would have known there was a connection between these images if I had not wanted to delve deeper into their meaning. And that is why I am so thankful to be a Catholic artist!