(After the prototype of Christ; Istanbul, 13th Century C.E.)
This icon was created as a gift to the people of the Madhya/Kerala Diocese of the Church of South India (CSI) as a means to let them know of the concerns and prayers of the Diocese of Oregon for them as they recover from the devastation of the December 2004 tsunami.
THE ICON TELLS THE STORY
This icon shows St.Thomas as he might have looked after spending several years in India. He is shown as a man in the prime of his life; energetic and a great builder of Churches throughout the region. St. Thomas was known as an architect and Church builder, as well as an Apostle.
There is no reliable historical fact concerning Thomas’ date of birth; he was undoubtedly Jewish and his martyrdom is recorded as having occurred in 72 C.E. at what was said to be an advanced age. Thomas was with Jesus, whose life and ministry ended, perhaps, in about 30 C.E. so at the time of Thomas’ ministry with Jesus, it may be concluded that Thomas must have been an adult, perhaps similar in age to Jesus. Historical references purport to show that Thomas was in India for a total of some 17 years. St. Thomas was said to have been slain by a spear or a lance and his remains are reputed to now rest in Ortona, Italy, having been translated there (after 5 or 6 other resting-places) in, perhaps, the 12th Century, C.E. Some of his remains are also believed to be in the Cathedral of Mylapore, India, having been found by some Portuguese in 1522 C.E. and taken there by them.
Working in the Byzantine tradition, Iconographers are obliged to seek prototype images within the Canons of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Those of Thomas that are extant show him as a very young man; none show him in or after his later years in India.
The Government of India in 1964 and 1973 issued postage stamps to commemorate anniversaries of St. Thomas’ life and work in India. On one of those stamps Thomas is shown as an elderly man, with his facial hair very reminiscent of historic and contemporary hair and beard styles of older Indian men. This icon uses that stamp’s image for the face of Thomas rather than using a more readily available youthful European or Mediterranean Saint’s face. St. Thomas’ main body form is taken from a 14th Century C.E. icon of Christ Pantokrator…a full frontal Byzantine presentation, copied from a 13th Century C.E. mosaic in Hagia Sophia, Byzantium (by then, renamed Constantinople – modern-day Istanbul, Turkey).
THE SYMBOLS IN THE ICON
The Saint is dressed in non-clerical garments typical of the Byzantine era. Thomas carries an open scroll, that of a philosopher, on which it is customary to write portions of Scripture. In this instance the words are the response that Thomas gave to Christ’s challenge – “My Lord and My God”. He is no longer the “Doubting Thomas” but the believer. The Saint’s halo is of pure gold, as is the background of the larger circle.
Surrounding the halo are 12 red garnets representing the 12 Apostles and a red fire opal, in the flame of the Holy Spirit above St. Thomas’ head, symbolizes the blood of martyrdom.
The icon is configured as a 14″ diameter circle within a 16″ x 16″ square. These are two of the most powerful symbols in architecture. Placing the circle in the square also produces the third very important architectural “icon”; the bracket, often found in church buildings supporting roofs and vaulted ceilings. The four brackets surrounding the circle of the icon are filled with scrollwork derived from carved marble decoration found in the Taj Mahal in India. Included within the scrollwork are logos representing Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Oregon and The Church of South India, Kerala.
Legends survive to this day, that Thomas’ footprint was embedded in the rock on which he was slain. Other legends claim that he carved a cross on the rock where he was subsequently slain. A cross, similar to an ancient 6th Century C.E. cross – believed to be the one carved by Thomas, is reproduced on the back of this icon. A dedication “carta” is also affixed to the back of the icon.
St. Thomas is the patron saint of India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Pakistan, architects, builders, carpenters, stone-masons, surveyors, geometricians, theologians, blind people and people in doubt.