Reflections on the 2019 Retreats

The 2019 Assisi Retreat took place at the end of June in the midst of a heatwave in central Italy. With average temperatures of 39 degrees C for most of the 11 days, the five of us had to learn the art of the siesta quickly.

Given that our average age was 74.2 years, we all managed the heat, the painting course and visits to the wonderful Franciscan sites surprisingly well, with two of the group even finding the stamina to paint a few landscapes and figure studies.

Due to two last minute cancellations, our group was smaller than anticipated, however we were then able to accommodate one of the young Sisters from the Convent Guesthouse, who wanted to learn some icon painting in order to use it in her youth work in the Philippines and produced a lovely and very contemplative icon of St Clare.

The other icons produced by the group were all completed very successfully and with great devotion and skill; they included two single figure images of St Francis (after the Bardi Chapel Vita panel), one St Francis receives the Stigmata (after Berlinghiero) and one Madonna and Child. All of these images date from the second half of the 13th century, produced in Umbria or Tuscany and are a Franciscan fusion of Romanesque and Byzantine sacred art.

One of the many highlights was our pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of La Verna, with it’s deep sense of peace, amazing views and refreshingly cooler mountain climate. This area is also famous for it’s black truffles – as one lucky lady in the group found out when she was given a very large truffle by a local hunter in a village cafe en route to the Sanctuary! After a huge lunch and the unique 3 pm service and procession to the Chapel of the Stigmata, we were incredibly fortunate to have our icons blessed by one of the Friars, who not only was himself an icon painter but knew the Greek Orthodox blessing rite and gave his time most generously.

The 2019 Walsingham Retreat followed at the end of September and was filled to capacity, with two of the group undertaking huge journeys from Indiana, USA and Ontario, Canada. The variety of icons produced by this group was remarkable and the result of our intensely creative, energetic and dedicated studio practice. In addition to the individual icon projects, a lot of specific practical skills improvement was achieved as part of the time allocated to this.

We were all deeply enriched and inspired by an evening of contemplative prayer, generously given by one of our group who is trained in the Carmelite tradition and very experienced in delivering such sessions. In addition we found time to have a Quiz Nite with due silliness, an Origami and Popcorn party and a Film Nite, featuring the fabulously produced dvd digital exhibition ‘I, Claude Monet’.

To all my lovely, amazing students this year (including those from the other four workshops at St Seraphim’s and in Bath) thank you for sharing your many gifts, creative energy and spiritual wisdom with each other.

Pax et Bonum.