Our Lady of Fontgombault Abbey

Buying an Icon

The Abbey offers for sale the work of its iconographers. Buying an icon is not a commonplace gesture. One must first discover the image that leads us to prayer and draws us towards the invisible. One must have met this image in its reality, seen its colours singing, appreciated the whole of it as well as its details. That is why this site does not allow you to buy icons online as you could buy any other item. If one of the icons featured here appeals to you, we invite you to come and see it, so that you can make an informed purchase.

A true icon is not an inexpensive object. It has required many hours of patient and very meticulous work. Its price varies according to the size of the icon, the number of its characters, the amount of gold that has been used. It is stated at the abbey.

Christ Pantocrator

25 x 30 cm, on view at Fontgombault Abbey.

This icon on a golden background carries us into the divine world, that of eternity, where the very gentle, deep and merciful eyes of the incarnate Son of God are awaiting us.
     Christ is wearing here a purple tunic, a royal symbol of his divinity, and a blue-green mantle. This colour, which is that of the terrestrial globe and the material creation, in iconography traditionally signifies his humanity.
     On each side of the head are the first and last letters of the name "Jesus Christ", and in the cross of the nimbus, the Greek letters of the divine Name revealed in the Old Testament : ὁ ὤν, ho ôn, "He who is" (Ex 3:14). The bottom inscription is the Slavonic words Господь Вседержитель, meaning Pantocrator, "the Almighty Lord".

The Mother of God "Hodigitria"

34 x 45 cm, on view at Fontgombault Abbey.

This icon is inspired by an ancient Greek icon from the 13th century, which is preserved today in the gallery of icons in the Church of St. Clement in Ohrid, Macedonia. The name of this type of icon comes from the Greek hodigos, which means "guide". The Theotokos, that is, the Mother of God, who carries the Child-God in her right hand, and with the other shows him to us, makes herself our "guide" to Christ, "Way, Truth and Life" (Jn 14:5).
     The Mother of God is presented in a hieratic attitude. She is clothed in the dark purple masphorion, symbol of her royal dignity, on which shine the three golden stars, the very ancient Syriac symbol of Mary's triple virginity : before, during and after childbirth. The Child-God is represented in the fullness of his divine-humanity, because despite his childlike size, he has the features of an adult. His garment is covered with golden rays, symbol of his divinity. His attitude is that of the merciful judge: with his right hand, he blesses, and with his left hand he clutches the scroll of the Gospels.
     On the gold background are written the first and last letters of the Greek words METER and THEOU, which means "Mother of God", as well as the words IESOUS and CHRISTOS, "Jesus Christ". In the nimbus surrounding the head of the Child-God is traced a cross whose three upper arms bear the letters of the divine Name revealed in the Old Testament : o ôn, "He who is" (Ex 3:14).

St. Francis of Assisi

29 x 50 cm, on view at Fontgombault Abbey.

Francis was born in Assisi, Umbria, in 1182. His father was a rich cloth merchant, and his mother, who belonged to a noble Provence family, taught him from his early childhood "the sweet language of France". Tradition has it that this is the reason why his father, who had baptized him John, decided to call him Francesco, "the Frenchman".
     After a carefree youth, he converted and decided to renounce worldly riches, thus embracing "Lady Poverty". He soon had followers and founded the order of Friars Minor, the "Fraticelli". Francis tirelessly preached the love of God: "Love is not loved", he would cry as he walked through the streets of Assisi, his eyes burning with tears. He also preached detachment from perishable goods, love for all men, forgiveness of offences, mercy, peace, concord, love for creatures. His missionary zeal took him to the Holy Land and Egypt. Two years before his death, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Christ gave him the stigmata of his Passion, in his hands, feet and side. The Poverello was canonized by Pope Gregory X, barely two years after his death, in 1228.
     On this icon, St. Francis is depicted wearing the Franciscan habit, barefoot, blessing with his right hand, and holding in his left hand a phylactery with the first line of his famous "Canticle of the Sun and the Creatures" in old Italian: " Laudato si mi Signore, cum tucte le tue creature. . .  ".

The Virgin of Tenderness

35 x 45 cm, on view at Fontgombault Abbey.

This lyrical icon of the Mother of God and Child is inspired by the ancient Lyubiatovo icon in Pskov, which dates back to the first half of the 15th century. It belongs to the iconographic type known as "of Tenderness" or Eleousa, i. e. , "merciful". This type developed in Byzantium before the 12th century, on the basis of that of the Hodigitria or "Conductress". Mary is depicted with the Child pressing his cheek against her face, cuddling up to her in a touching gesture full of life. The Virgin is represented either standing or seated on a throne, or in bust form. It is this last variant which has known the widest diffusion in the Russian iconography, the icons taking the name of the place of their creation or of the accounts reporting their miraculous appearance: the Vladimir icon, the most famous of all, the icon of Feodorov, of the Don, of Tolg, etc.
     The icon of Lyubiatovo presents a characteristic detail : the gesture of the Child who puts his hand on the chin of his Mother, belonging to the type "Enjoué" (Virgin and Child playing, frolicking), which appeared in the Christian East in the 13th-14th centuries. Another peculiarity is the phylactery in Christ's left hand, a detail peculiar to the Hodigitria type. Thus this icon presents the original combination of three different types of Marian iconography.
     The contrast of colours from which are absent bright spots of white, except for the light features of the faces and the phylactery, the particular softness of the range of intense and warm tones : yellow, red, orange, dark red and greenish blue, typical of Pskov, are in perfect harmony with the emotional state of the pensive and collected effigies.

St. Clement of Rome

40 x 51 cm, on view at Fontgombault Abbey.

Clement was the third successor of St. Peter on the Chair of Rome, after the lower-profile pontificates of Linus and Cletus, both of whom died martyrs. St. Irenaeus of Lyons said of him that he had "seen the Apostles": "their preaching resounded in his ears, their tradition was still before his eyes." St. Clement is best known for his Letter to the Corinthians, written around 95, a gentle and firm exhortation to unity and charity which was read in the Christian assemblies of the first centuries on a par with St. Paul's letters. This letter ends with the famous "Great Prayer", one of the major documents on the liturgy of antiquity. The name of St. Clement is mentioned in the Roman Canon of the Mass.
     On this icon, the holy martyred pope is clothed in the episcopal habit, a white chasuble strewn with blue crosses, and the omophorion, a kind of long woollen scarf adorned with crosses, the distinctive sign of bishops. He has a grey beard and a clerical tonsure. He holds the book of the Gospels in his left hand, and blesses with his right hand.

St. Thomas Aquinas

24 x 29 cm, on view at Fontgombault Abbey.

Thomas was born around 1225 near Aquinas, not far from Naples, and died in the Cistercian monastery of Fossa Nova on March 7, 1274, at the age of 49, while on his way to the Council of Lyon. After having been an oblate from the age of 5 at the Benedictine abbey of Mount Cassino, he entered the newly founded Order of Friars Preachers at the age of 19. He was sent to continue his studies in Paris, where he was taught by St. Albert the Great, whom he then followed to Cologne. Very quickly, Brother Thomas proved to be a powerful genius in philosophy and theology, magnificently realizing the ideal of the Order of Friars Preachers : contemplata aliis tradere, "to transmit to others what one has contemplated." He taught tirelessly until the end of his life, leaving a monumental work that made manifest all the mysteries of the faith in their coherence, on the basis of a few simple and luminous principles, a work similar to a spiritual cathedral. The holiness of Brother Thomas was solemnly proclaimed by Pope John XXII in 1323. St. Pius V proclaimed him Doctor of the Church in 1567.
     This icon represents St. Thomas in his Dominican habit. His eyes seems to stare at the invisible. On his chest shines what became his iconographic emblem as soon as the 14th century, the golden sun of Wisdom. In its centre, in a circle, can be seen the face of Christ. In his right hand Thomas holds the quill of the theologian, and in his left hand an open book in which are inscribed these lines from the hymn Pange lingua ("Sing, O my tongue") that he composed in honour of the Blessed Sacrament : Verbum caro panem verum Verbo carnem efficit ("the Word made flesh, by his word, changes true bread into his flesh"). Pope Urban IV had indeed asked him in 1264 to compose the texts of the Office and Mass of the Blessed Sacrament.

Mother of God in Majesty

35 x 45 cm, on view at Fontgombault Abbey.

This icon is inspired by a fresco of Master Denys dating from the early years of the 16th century, in the monastery of Feraponte, in the Vologda region. This type of representation is ancient: the oldest known example dates from around 527 and is found in the catacomb of Comodilla in Rome. The Mother of God sits on a throne, as an empress. She is clothed in a blue tunic and the dark red maphorion where three golden stars shine, symbolizing her perpetual virginity, before, during and after childbirth. She wears the traditional red slippers. The Child sits on her lap as on a throne. His face is grave and thoughtful, for he is the eternal Wisdom made flesh. He is dressed as an adult, with the yellow ochre imperial tunic, enhanced with gold, a symbol of his divinity. He blesses with his right hand and clasps the scroll of the Gospels in the other one. This Virgin in majesty, "throne of Wisdom", shares with the sculptures of ancient paganism her hieratic attitude, her gestures and features. But what is expressed here is the dogma of the Divine Maternity, proclaimed at the Council of Ephesus (431): since that time, she has sit as a sovereign in the apses of churches, with all the honours of a Byzantine empress. St. John Damascene seems to have this image before his eyes when he writes: "Her hands carry the Lord, and her knees are a throne more sublime than the Cherubim; she is the royal throne on which the Angels contemplate, seated, their Master and their Creator".

St. John the Baptist, the Precursor

24 x 29 cm, on view at Fontgombault Abbey.

St. John the Baptist is the greatest of the prophets, as Christ himself attests (Mt 11:9-11), for he alone was able to point to the Messiah of whom the others only had a glimpse from afar. This depiction of St. John the Baptist is modelled after a 16thcentury Pskov icon. The monumental figure of the last Prophet stands out clearly against the golden background. Everything about him is imbued with gravity: the gesture of his right hand, characteristic of the preacher, the scepter and phylactery solemnly raised, the heavy folds of his himalion, the cloak thrown over his tunic of camel hair.
     The face of the Precursor is surprisingly austere: it seems to reflect the essence of the message that he had to transmit to the people of his time on behalf of God, with all its weight of absoluteness: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt 3:2). "Produce worthy fruits of repentance" (Mt 3:8).