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This document outlines a proposal to establish a school at Ealing Abbey in the United Kingdom which will award a diploma in iconographic techniques.  It describes the aims and objectives of those making the proposal[1] as well as their intentions regarding methodology and academic affiliation.  The document also seeks to set the project within the broader context of Church teaching and need, which has inspired it. 




In AD 787 the Fathers of the Second Council of Nicea rejected the idea that sacred images are unnecessary and blasphemous.  They affirmed the tradition according to which: 


‘Venerable and holy images, done in colour, mosaics and all other appropriate materials, of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ as well as those of Mary Immaculate, the Holy Bearer of God, the honourable angels and all holy and pious people are to be exposed in the holy churches of God, on sacred vessels and vestments, on the walls and on the floors, in the houses and in the streets.’


The teachings of the Council are fully recognized by both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.


In 1963 the Second Vatican Council decreed that ‘the practice of placing sacred images in churches so that they may be venerated by the faithful is to be maintained’[2]. It declared that artists should ‘ever bear in mind that they are engaged in a kind of sacred imitation of God the Creator, and are concerned with works destined to be used in Catholic worship, to edify the faithful, and to foster their piety and their religious formation’[3]. Though the Council made it plain that the Church is in principle open to all artistic styles, old and new, it called for  ‘schools or academies of sacred art to be founded so that artists may be trained [4]– and for Bishops to ‘carefully remove from the house of God and from other sacred places those works of artists which are repugnant to faith, morals, and Christian piety, and which offend true religious sense either by depraved forms or by lack of artistic worth, mediocrity and pretence’[5]


Successive Roman Pontiffs have affirmed this teaching - and applied it to modern challenges. For example,  on the 1200thanniversary of the Second Nicean Council[6], Saint Pope John Paul II , wrote: 


‘The growing secularisation of society shows that that it is becoming largely estranged from spiritual values, from the mystery of our salvation in Jesus Christ, from the reality of the world to come. Our most authentic tradition, which we share with our Orthodox brethren, teaches us that the language of beauty placed at the service of faith is capable of reaching people's hearts and making them know from within the One whom we dare to represent in images, Jesus Christ, Son of God made man, "the same yesterday, today and forever"’. Saint Pope John Paul went on to appeal to the Bishops of the Church to ‘maintain firmly the practice of proposing to the faithful the veneration of sacred images in the churches" and to “do everything so that more works of truly ecclesial quality may be produced.’




These teachings point us to a vision where, the Catholic faithful in England and Wales are able, increasingly, to venerate sacred images in their churches which are of a truly ecclesial quality.  


Sacred art of a truly ecclesial quality: is

  • Incarnational : it expresses the unique potential of the individual Christian artist to make known the transforming encounters of liturgy and sacrament. 

  • Evangelical: it engages the heart and imagination of the viewer and draws them into the mysteries of Holy Scripture 

  • Authentic: of its time, able to express contemporary faith and sensibility[7], but rooted in a tradition of profound continuity with the treasures of sacred Christian art

  • Beautiful: not simply well-executed, technically sound or merely decorative, but radiant in its depiction of a transfigured world. 


This is the art that is needed so that the believers of today, like the ones of  yesterday, are helped in their prayer and in their faith.  It is sadly absent from too many of our churches. 




We aim to produce graduates able to make work of ecclesial quality.  Sound technical training, combined with exposure to relevant liturgy and theology will equip them to design and not simply copy sacred images. They will be able to apply their work as servants of Christ’s church, in differing contexts, according to need.  


Change will be achieved incrementally as those commissioning new sacred art come to respect and require the work of our graduates.  Their interest will be stimulated by our presence on the Web, by our Public Exhibitions of graduate work, and through our efforts to align our work with the Church.  Those efforts will include not just episcopal attendance at the final Exhibitions (and countersignature of each diploma) but also proposals by the School for art to commemorate contemporary events in the life of the Church.  




  • Enabling the production of sacred imagery of  truly ecclesial quality as an ongoing mission of service to the Church.




  • To establish rigorous and methodical teaching, starting from the basics, according to the model developed by the Brussels Academy of Icon Painting[8].




1. To provide a structured course of practical study over an extended period in which students gain the skill and knowledge to harness their own unique potential for sacred art.


2. To make this practical learning accessible to promising students of all ages including those with limited means.


3. To raise awareness that good sacred art is necessary and useful; a didactic tool; and a profound form of evangelisation. 




Our institution will affiliate to the ecumenical Brussels Academy of Icon Painting established in 2005 and directed by Irina Gorbounova-Lomax, a Russian iconographer resident in Brussels[9]. Three successful affiliates of the Brussels 

Academy have already been established in Poland by one of its graduates[10].  Further such ventures are in hand.  Affiliation will ground the Ealing school in a tried and tested curriculum, training students from the most basic level, and increasing their knowledge and technique incrementally.  It will provide external quality assurance and direct input of necessary iconographic scholarship. 


Our diploma course will be delivered over four years.  Each year will be divided into 2 terms covering a total of 32 weeks.  Teaching sessions will be three hours long. The student will undertake to spend at least 5 hours during the week to develop further what is taught in the lesson.  The aim is to teach no more than 10 students at a time.


The teaching will be led by a graduate of the Brussels Academy of Icon Painting, who will be overseen by the Director of the Brussels Academy as necessary.  In particular,  the latter will visit the Ealing affiliate twice a year to view the expositions of work and deliver lectures on the history and theology of the icon.  It is expected that input from Brussels will diminish over time as the Ealing School develops experience and solidity, though the intention is that the School will remain permanently affiliated. 


The focus of the proposed school’s teaching, as with the Brussels Academy, will be on composition, drawing and the use of colour.  This will be based mainly on the classical iconographic tradition[11], but without slavish adherence to any particular style or exact historical period.  Though our students will learn to understand and use the language and conventions of classical iconograpic style, they will also be encouraged to discern how the influences of their life and times have informed their own development and aesthetic sensibilities. We aim to enable them to use that discernment to produce work that is true, authentic and contemporary as well as in continuity with the tradition of sacred art and the high standards associated with it.


Teaching will be arranged at Ealing Abbey’s Blessed Virgin Mary and St Dunstan Studio of Christian Art (Christian Art Studio), and offered to diploma students on a modular basis. 


The teaching modules are as follows:

  • Basics (brush skills, properties of materials, exercises to develop hand/eye co-ordination).

  • Iconographic Elements ( landscape, plants, creatures, water, architecture).

  • Draperies.

  • The human body (hands, feet, hair, beards, and faces).

  • Iconographic composition and drawing, head only.

  • Composition, drawing and painting of waist length icons.

  • Composition, drawing and painting of full-length icons.

  • Drawing, composition and painting: Feasts of the Church Year.


In addition, relevant teaching will be available, arranged and administered by the Benedictine Institute, separately from the diploma course.  For example, Fr Daniel McCarthy OSB, who lectures on the architectural design and artistic narrative of churches. Similarly the teaching of Dr Basilius Groen, professor of liturgy and  sacramental theology which includes consideration of liturgical and pastoral aspects of iconography.


Successful students will be presented for a Diploma following external validation by the Director of the Brussels Academy.  The Diploma will attest the satisfactory completion of the course in terms of attendance, demonstration of technical skills  understanding, and commitment.  Respecting the ecumenical council inspiration for the project, and the example of the Brussels Academy, it is envisaged that the Diploma would be countersigned by Roman Catholic and Orthodox episcopal authorities as well as the Abbot of Ealing Abbey.   


The school would be hosted and endorsed by the Benedictine Institute at Ealing Abbey.  In keeping with the Benedictine ethos of prayer and work in the service of Christ, (Ora et Labora), the Benedictine Institute hosts various activities for study, acquisition of practical skills, consideration of vocation in its many forms, and discovery of new forms of spiritual expression. It is independent of the parish and comes under the direct authority of the Abbot. Activities include the study of liturgy, Latin, languages, the arts, as well as the Ealing Abbey Lay Plainchant Choir. Short courses in icon painting are currently offered, each of 5 or 6 days duration, taught by external tutors, once or twice a year[12].  




  • Hands-on, studio-based, student-focussed weekly learning at a competitive rate[13]

  • Accessible West London base (Ealing Abbey ) 

  • On site Mass, Divine Office, and School of Prayer, 

  • A well-established, proven method that:

    • Builds foundational, core skills

    • Instils the principles and practice of iconography

    • Immerses the student in Christian imagery, past and present

    • Inculcates critical analysis and discernment

  • Synergetic location within the Benedictine Institute 

  • A diploma (on completion) accredited by the founder of the parent international iconographic institution and supported by Bishops of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

  • Public exhibition of graduates’ work.  




The School cannot achieve the change it seeks unless it promotes itself and the work of the students.  In addition, the third objective of this project commits us ‘to raise awareness that good sacred art is necessary and useful; a didactic tool; and a profound form of evangelisation’.  Such awareness-raising requires us to maintain an external face, not least by:

  • Maintaining an active proselytising presence on the Web

  • Inviting the public and church representatives to attend the expositions of student and graduate work

  • Proposing art to commemorate contemporary events in the life of the Church. 

  • Collaborating with the Benedictine Institute in promoting exhibitions and talks on sacred art, particularly those that show the ongoing relevance of icons to worship, liturgical and personal, east and west. 


The iconography of Christ involves the whole faith in the reality of the Incarnation and its inexhaustible meaning for the Church and the world. If the Church practices it, it is because she is convinced that the God revealed in Jesus Christ has truly redeemed and sanctified the flesh and the whole sensible world, that is man with his five senses, to allow him to be ever renewed in the image of his creator.’ (St Pope John Paul II)


[1] Principally Amanda de Pulford and Sue Morris, with the engaged support of  Dom Peter Burns OSB and Irina Gorbounova-Lomax.

[2] Sacrosanctum Concilium, Chapter VII,  Article 127

[3] Ibid, Article 127 paragraph 3

[4] Ibid, Article 127 paragraph 2

[5] Ibid, Article 124 paragraph 2

[6] Duodecimum Saeculum -  Apostolic Letter of Pope St John Paul II to the Episcopate of the Catholic Church on the occasion of the 1200th anniversary of the Second Council of Nicaea.

[7] For example, it should be able to celebrate newly discovered miracles of God’s grace, such as newly canonised saints

[8] See ‘Delivery’, above. 

[9] For some appreciations of Ms Gorbounova-Lomax work see e.g.  She writes extensively about icons and iconography: her recent book ‘Icons – Truth and Fable’ (exposing the pseudo-spiritual approach that can cloak artistic ineptitude) has been especially well received (

[10] This is the Studio of St Elijah (Atelier Swatago Eliasza) in Warsaw, founded in 2014 by Sister Mateusza Drewniak, of the Monastic Community of Jerusalem (a religious order of the Catholic Church) and  a graduate of Irina's academy. See also the Polish school’s website:

[11] i.e. respecting, in the main, iconography from the Roman, Byzantine, Carolingian, Anglo-Saxon and Romanesque traditions

[12] These are held as part of the Abbey’s instinctual mode of hospitality, in which the Abbey hosts the courses but does not necessarily endorse them.  They would continue quite separately from the proposed diploma course

[13]  The host institution and teaching staff are offering special rates in view of the importance of the initiative. 

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