Thursday, August 30, 2007

Building a new parish? Think about hiring this guy...

Thankfully, there are some new Catholic churches that are reclaiming our artistic patrimony. One of those awesome churches was just finished in 2004 in the Minneapolis, MN suburb of St. Michael. Not coincidentally, the local parish in St. Michael is the Church of St. Michael (the archangel, that is). A friend, knowing my interests, recently asked me if I had seen the new church in St. Michael, and I mistakenly told him that I had seen it, thinking that he was referring to what I now know is the "old" St. Michael parish church, or historic church. I had been to a wedding there, and the old church is beautiful, and I thought he was referring to a refurbishment of that church. I didn't realize the parish had exceeded their capacity there and built a new church. Here you can see a picture of the facade of the historic church, and a picture of the new church.

Right away you can tell the pastor of St. Michael's and the lay faithful there have their collective head on straight, in that they did not simply get rid of the old church, nor did they renovate the old church "in the spirit of Vatican II." (For those who are not Catholic, an inside joke referring to some of the horrible renovations of historic churches that have occurred after Vatican II, done in the mistaken notion that the "spirit of Vatican II" mandated that we move the altar to the center of the church, carpet the floors, and put up felt banners everywhere). In fact, the old church is still used for masses and weddings. Further, they did not create a new, modernist church with the hope of "fitting in" with the perceived directions of church architecture. Instead, they hit the big five right on: verticality, iconography, formality, transcendence, and hierarchy. Now, without seeing the church in person yet, I don't know the extent that these goals were accomplished, but the few exterior pictures I have seen look promising, and I know they nailed the iconography. They hired Vladislav Andrejev (pictured above).

Mr. Andrejev is a Russian and a Russian Orthodox iconographer (he "writes" icons, as it's called), and actually has founded his own school in New York, the Prosopon School of Iconology. The Orthodox churches and the Catholic church have much in common in terms of icons and other artistic representations of the faith, and so it made a lot of sense for St. Michael's to hire Mr. Andrejev to complete the iconography for their new church, especially since I have heard that the pastor there wished to have the church serve as an example of breaking down the barriers between Western and Eastern Christianity. The result is quite stunning.
In the center and bottom pictures is Mr. Andrejev himself giving a tour of his work. Fantastically, you can take a slideshow tour of his work as well, and listen to him explain the art of iconography (courtesy of the Star Tribune, which ran a story in January of this year on St. Michael's). Go here for the multimedia sildeshow (has audio, so you'll want your speakers or headphones on).

If you'd like more info on how he "writes" an icon, here's an explanation of his school's method. And here's a wonderful, 10-second animation of the method from start to finish.

I'm looking forward to taking a visit out to St. Michael sometime soon to see all this in person. I'd also consider undertaking to learn the icon writing process, but it's a little different from oil painting (he uses egg tempera) and the style would definitely take some learning. I've got enough to do for now on my current pursuits!


John Curran said...

Very inspiring reading about icon writing. Did some research, and would love to attend classes somewhere; have been looking for a new medium, and this is very appealing. The process of writing an icon is something I'd like to learn. Would appreciate recommendations for the best book(s) teaching icon writing, until or if attending classes becomes practical.

Brendan Koop said...


I haven't had any experience with icons either, and haven't read any books on the process. In a look at, I did find two very highly rated books that look like they fit the bill. I would consider getting these myself.

A Brush With God: An Icon Workbook

The Practice of Tempera Painting

Hope these whet the appetite. I think I for sure am going to add the first one to my wishlist.

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

We are quite proud of our new church and the priest that inspired it all. He was very wonderful to include, in nearly all parts of the design, symbols of the desire for reunification of East and West in the Church! If you get a chance, please visit the new Church and take a tour. It has marvelous potential for even more beauty in the years to come!