Living Tradition and Iconography

The Bethlehem Icon School

Well, who would have thought it? The Bethlehem Icon School has now begun its training of local Arab Christians as professional iconographers!   Two years ago, it was just an embryonic aspiration, now it is about actual people and their lives, their faith and their talents.

Classes began in early September, and for two months we met twice a week for two very long days of intense teaching and practice. A combination of technical, theological and spiritual formation shapes the sessions, and over the first term, we have covered anatomy, drawing techniques, sacred geometry and design, calligraphy, the Face of Christ, men and women’s faces, old and young faces. Students have progressed from pencil sketches to monochrome studies in egg tempera. They have also learnt how to gesso a board. During the next four months while I am back in the United Kingdom, students have five studies to complete, each one a series of geometric construction, sketch, and monochrome study. When classes resume in April, we will complete each one as a fully executed icon in colour.

Progress has been solid, with some already having a natural talent while others have begun very much from scratch. The commitment from the students has been very high. Some have to use their annual work leave, others travel two hours to get there and back, others have to plead for special time away from work. They have all begun to work as a team, equipping the workshop, having a shared lunch on Saturdays, taking on various tasks that need to be done. On the following pages, you will see just how much this means to the students, something that is even more poignant after the tragic recent days of conflict in Gaza. Here we are building something of hope, rooted in the revelation of God’s love, in a region where hope is something in very short supply.

After initially being hosted by the Coptic convent on Milk Grotto Street, we are now housed in an annex of Bethlehem University, the Brother Vincent Malham Centre, very close to the Church of the Nativity, where Our Saviour was born and first manifested to the world! We have two reasonably sized rooms at a very basic rent. The Brothers who run the University, especially Brother Jack, have been a great source of encouragement and help. They are sympathetic to the challenges brought on by attempting anything new in Bethlehem, understand the real value of the project, and have been rock solid in doing all they can to ensure we succeed. To all at the University, our sincerest thanks.

Financially, we seem to be on the right track. Money raised so far should cover us for the first two years, more or less. We have secured the backing of one very generous British philanthropist who has promised £6,000 for next year, which should ensure we have enough funds for year two, with a promise to help again if things go well in year three. To all our donors, we extend an enormous thank you and assure you of a place in our prayers. A special word of thanks to the Friends of the Holy Land for adopting us as a project and handling all our donations. It is great to have your support and encouragement!

One imponderable is the cost of accommodation. If things progress with the building we have been offered rent free, then we are home free, but negotiations have faced quite a few difficulties, mostly to do with the arcane nature of Palestinian property laws and the difficulties that the Centre for Cultural Heritage Preservation in Bethlehem has had finding funding for the project, so we wait to see how soon we might be able to realistically think about moving operations to a permanent home. Until then, we will have to meet the costs of rent. Our current premises in the Brother Vincent Centre are adequate for now, but in the medium term we will need more space, and of course, that means higher costs. Please keep this in your prayers as it is the main aspect of the project which remains to be secured. As always, you can stay up-to-date on the latest news from the project at our website:

This message comes with the very warmest greetings from all at the Bethlehem Icon Centre, for you, your family and loved ones as we begin the wonderful pilgrimage towards Christmas, when God first showed us His Sacred Face, Jesus Christ, icon of the Father. May the blessings of the Christ Child wrap us in His Divine Love.

Ian Knowles, Director.

Page date: 2018