As Catholics, our faith is sacramental: we recognize the relationship between the physical and spiritual reality of our world born out of our awareness that Jesus Christ was both Divine and human. This is why witnessing and creating Sacred Art helps us encounter God.
“Just looking at and praying with art can help us to grow in our faith,” said Sarah Crow, the artist-in-residence at St. Gregory’s Hall. “By experiencing beauty, we come into relationship with God who is the source and end of all that is good, true, and beautiful.”
Crow said this relationship is not abstract, that our hearts are often deeply moved and softened by beauty to become receptive to God’s mercy.
Sacred Art is a gift, and the goal of St. Gregory’s Hall is to use the traditions and exceptional beauty of Catholic Art to invite people into an encounter with Christ. Sacred Art is also a tool which teaches us about the truths of our faith, scripture, and the lives of the saints through visual stories and symbols.
A form of art that Crow has long admired is manuscript illumination. Most often seen decorating holy texts or prayer books, this technique was pioneered by medieval monks who hand wrote and painted (i.e., illuminated) manuscripts for hundreds of years before the printing press was brought to Europe. After teaching herself, Crow wanted to share this unique method with others.
In October, St. Gregory’s Hall hosted a Manuscript Illumination Workshop in honor of the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Attendees not only learned how to make the paint medium according to a medieval recipe (including egg whites, honey, and Gum arabic), but also how to trace and transfer a design, and how to apply the paint to create their illuminations.
Long-time parishioner Amy Alznauer said she attended the workshop because, like Crow, she felt draw to the beauty in illuminated manuscripts.
“They seem to imbue the text with a layer of meaning,” Alznauer said. “It feels to me there is a continuity between the communion of saints and illuminated manuscripts. The illuminations help make visible that grand communion between our lives, the text, and the Word (Jesus Christ).”
Alznauer said the prayerful atmosphere of the studio and the act of working on a piece of art for an afternoon was a “profoundly spiritual experience,” both meticulous and meditative.
Another attendee, Mark McNary, said he was eager to approach God through art because it was new to him.
"The Illluminations help make visible that grand communion
“COVID had kept me away from Church so long, and I thought the class would be a good way to reintroduce myself, to get back to Church,” McNary said. “It sounded so interesting and so out of my comfort zone!”
Reflecting on the workshop, McNary said he had expected the process of painting to be meditative but what surprised him was how natural it felt despite being a new skill. From the people he met to the knowledge he gained; he found the entire experience gratifying.
“I love sharing my finished artwork with others,” McNary said. “In fact, I just turned my painting into my Christmas card for this coming holiday.”
Crow was happily surprised by the energy and enthusiasm of the participants who all found it accessible, even those who had never made art before. This led to the planning of a second class – Medieval Nativity Illumination Workshop – which is open now for registration. The workshop will take place over two days, December 16 & 17, and attendees will reproduce a 14th-century illumination of the letter ‘H’ with a nativity scene by Florentine artist Don Simone Camaldolese. In addition to making their own paints, they will also gild details using genuine 23.5K shell gold!
Crow encourages anyone who is interested to give the workshop a try because making art is the best – and most fun! – way to appreciate sacred art. It can also be a very prayerful experience.
Other ways St. Gregory’s Hall promotes encounters with Sacred Art are through monthly life drawing classes and tours of our parish churches. Each opportunity explores different spiritual, theological, and aesthetic themes.
“It is my hope that those who come to appreciate and learn about sacred architecture, music, and art have an encounter with God through beauty,” Crow said. “We want to help people to become familiar and literate with Catholic art so that they can enjoy it in all its forms.”
You can check out upcoming events, workshops, and liturgies at stgregoryhall.org/events!
Photos from previous Sacred Art Program events courtesy: Mark Franzen & Damian Chlanda