BLESSED EDMUND IGNATIUS RICE
The Icon of Edmund Rice was created by Irish artist Desmond Kyne and was unveiled in Liverpool, England in 1986. The original is about the size of a household door. Kyne uses the principles of Byzantine and Celtic iconography. He has devised, through modern technology, a unique process whereby light, falling onto a laser-ruled metal backing, is brilliantly reflected through glass in front, on which the Icon is painted. The Icon literally glows and sparkles in different ways depending on the angle of viewing it.
Edmund dominates the central icon panel. The artist is keen to show him as commanding, relaxed and intent. He is a person of strength and vision. His eyes are large, taking everything in and revealing his compassion and understanding.
He is very much a fatherly figure reaching out to marginalised youth. The significance of Mary, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the presence of suffering, and many other facets of Edmund's story are vividly portrayed.
Presentation of Mary
The left panel begins with the presentation of Mary. Through Nano Nagle, this mystery influenced Edmund Rice greatly. Mary, the finest flower of the Old Testament, moves toward her destiny within the oval-shaped aureole (symbol of virginity and holiness), the Cross of her Son barely visible at its center. A text which touched Edmund deeply is the open Scriptures.
Before the Eucharist
Edmund is in prayer before the living God. The star of David and the triangle of the descending Deity point to him in adoration before the Eucharist, represented in muted but powerful imagery.
The man of deep spirituality is also the man of down-to-earth practicality. Edmund finds Christ in his mission as easily as in the Eucharist. His vision of the future for his poor boys shines in his eyes and radiates from his posture. The classroom scene is positioned directly besides Edmund's befriending hand in the center panel.
Edmund had a bake house established in Mount Sion, and also a tailor’s workshop: he was deeply sensitive to the wants and feelings of his pupils, and he did not wish them to experience either the pangs of hunger or the shame of being clad in rags.
During the early nineteenth century, prisons were miserable and crowded and the death sentence was frequently handed down for relatively trivial offences. It became the established practice for Christian Brothers to visit prisoners in Waterford, and later in Dublin and other centers, and to accompany the condemned to the gallows. Here, a young man, his hands fettered behind his back, is being comforted, as he is about to mount the steps to the gallows. (It might be one of Edmund’s former pupils.) There is a prison building and a river flowing, as it were, into the sky.
Live Jesus in our hearts, forever.
Edmund is here enjoying the fruits of his labors. He has fulfilled his mission and he stands wrapped in symbols of the Trinity, a man of his time, a man of all times, a man placed in the context of the eternal present. Behind him the Divinity spiral, the Sacred Host at its center, fills the area; on his breast is the Heart of Christ embodying the cross and with inbuilt spirals suggesting the spiritual energy of the risen Christ; the fire of the Holy Spirit swirls around him, and the globe of the world is at his feet.
Men of Holiness and Wisdom
Across the bottom images recall men of holiness and wisdom.
There is the boat in the first symbol bearing peregrini pro Christi (pilgrims for Christ) from the shores of Ireland to spread the Good News. It was a missionary initiative which would subsequently embrace the globe, with Irish Christian Brothers making a singular contribution.
Here is the father figure of the monk missionaries-Colmcille, saint, scholar, poet and artist, the island of Iona nestling in a seascape, the spiral repeated once again, and the dove of the Spirit overshadowing him.
Here is the wheeled shape of the Celtic High Cross-a cross which is unique in Christendom, with the circular sun symbol of the older religion now dominated by the cross of Christ. Significantly the whole internal movement of the icon flows downward to find its root in the Celtic Cross, or, perhaps, there is an upward movement of inspiration from the Cross to and through the figure of Edmund Rice.
Here is Colmcille again, now an artist, a master craftsman, bent in concentration on his work. He is the patron saint of Irish artists.
Here is a Celtic motif that leads to the age of Celtic Druids and Bardic schools, sources of learning and rich tradition. Colmcille made a spirited defense of the Bards at the Convention of Drumceatt in 575 AD when they were threatened with abolition, and here the long and illustrious Bardic line is represented by the blind Carolan, the last of the Bards. He plays his harp, and its notes are suggested in a rhythmic pattern suggested by stonework in the great doorway of St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea, but in this case inverted. Artistic license leads to aesthetic effect.
A.M.D.G. (Ad maiorem Dei gloriam)
At the right of the spiral are the letters AMDG, AD MAJOREM DEI GLORIAM (All My Work Done For God), the Jesuit motto which also became the motto of the Presentation Brothers. Edmund was instrumental in looking after the finances of the Jesuits when they were suppressed for a time and helped them re-establish themselves at Clongowes Wood in Dublin. This was in conjunction with his close friend, Fr. Peter Kenney.
St. Teresa of Avila
Edmund feasted on the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite mystic of the preceding century, and there are strong similarities between the two. She was magnificently practical and expressed her profound spirituality in very plain language. She is seen here with her staff and her book "Interior Castle". Around her are some of her favorite symbols-mountains, rain, river- and there is an affinity between her features and those of Edmund-strength, vision and eyes that look into the far distance.
Nano Nagle, foundress of the Presentation Sisters, makes her way through the back streets. The lantern she carries became for the poor of Cork a symbol of God’s love touching and helping the realities of their hard lives. Nano and Edmund might almost be described as spiritual twins: what she accomplished for the poverty-stricken young girls of Cork, he accomplished for the poverty-stricken young boys of Waterford. She sold everything to give to the poor, and so did he. Holy and heroic they both were, and when Edmund established his Congregation, the rule laid down by Nano for her Order was originally followed by the Brothers.
Heart of Christ
The Sacred Heart - Its dynamism epitomizes the source and outflow of compassionate energy which both Nano and Edmund harnessed and worked out of.
Here is a scene depicting a traditional Irish event, the family Rosary. It was part of the daily routine in the Rice home, and in the panel, the woman leading the prayers represents Margaret Rice, Edmund’s mother. The curving, rhythmic shapes around the group betoken the mantra-like manner in which the Rosary was recited, or intoned, and the all-pervasive, ever present Divinity spiral moves through the family circle. The imagery has a message for a generation that has let the tradition of the family Rosary die out.
Colmcille and his brother monks are relaxing together. There is food and drink, conversation and story-telling, and an atmosphere of shared peace and contentment. The scene evokes a lovely Irish proverb: “Is ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine.” “It is in the shelter of one another that the people live.”
Window from Temple McDuagh in the Aran Islands of Inishmore
Here is expressed the simple beauty of an end window from Temple McDuagh in the Aran island of Inishmore. Aran of St. Enda was another great nursery of learning, and many were the saints who studied there.
Central Icon Panel Edmund Rice
Edmund Rice dominates the central icon panel. The spiral is symbolic of God, the Creator. The flames represent the Holy Spirit. Rings of fire surround the haloes of Mary and the baby Jesus. Mary looks at us while Jesus has turned to look at Edmund.
Homestead at Westcourt
The Rices were a competent, and in many ways a fortunate people when compared with the great majority of their country folk. This is expressed in a glimpse of their comfortable homestead at Westcourt, where Edmund was born. The traditional thatched farmhouse looks across to the mountains of Slievenamon, and the setting sun.
Here too is a scene from Edmund’s boyhood. He and Brother Patrick Grace, a gentle Augustinian who was well known and well loved in the Callan area as the “Little Grey Friar”, sit talking. The two are engrossed in conversation, their bare feet resting on the brink of a well.
Edmund’s left hand caresses the head of his daughter.
Edmund’s left hand caresses the head of a child. There is gentleness, love and fatherliness in the caress. The child is his handicapped daughter, Mary Rice, the broken reed (whom Christ promised not to crush), and he draws her close to him.
What mysterious part she may have played in directing the course of her father’s life, and in unfolding the divine plan, is beyond human wisdom to gauge, but here she is a central figure in the symbolic treatment of the mystery and meaning of brokenness and suffering.
Young boy who is representative of the marginalized.
With his right hand, Edmund extends his fatherliness beyond the confines of family to a distressed young boy who is representative of a multitude of poor, illiterate and wretchedly disadvantaged children of Waterford. In this case, the gesture is one of friendship, an open invitation to a future of fulfillment and dignity through the development and proper use of God-given talents. To Edmund, education was an obvious and practical answer.
Locations Critical to the Mission
From his right hand, a group of seven stars moves away and upwards. They betoken the seven men who helped him lay the foundation of his work (stars also signify spiritual brightness, and faith, and the presence of the Divinity and much else).
The one second closest to his hand rests over the stable school in New Street, Waterford. Nearby, another star rests beside the Presentation Convent at Hennessy Road. Higher up, yet another star sits on the roof of Mount Sion, the mother house.
The Lamb of God
The Lamb of God, placed in opposition to the serpent, close to the well of living water, the fire of love alight in the halo - an image of immense serenity, sacrificial innocence, suffering and hope.