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24 September 2014

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John Coleman busy at work

North Cornwall Saint to be remembered

A South West based iconographer has been commissioned to produce an icon of St Endelienta. But John Coleman has a tricky job ahead of him as no one knows what the Saint looked like.

Very little is known about St Endelienta - the woman martyr who became the Saint of the north Cornish parish of St Endellion.

She was believed to have been one of the daughters of a sixth century Welsh Prince Brychan. She and her sisters have many Cornish churches dedicated to them like St Minver, St Teath, and St Mabyn.

Example of John's work
An example of John's work

Legend has it that St Endelienta's sole subsistence was the milk of a cow. Her cow which had strayed, was killed by Lord of Trentinney. He was then said to have been killed by the Saint's Godfather, reputed to be King Arthur.

Saint Endelienta's altar tomb is still in the church at St Endellion where the Saint will be forever remembered in a new commission.

South West based Iconographer John Coleman is well known for his icons which can be found in many churches.

But he has a hard task ahead of him. No one knows what St Endelienta would have looked like.

So BBC Radio Cornwall's Naomi Rowe went along to meet John Coleman to find out how he was planning to produce the icon. Use the audio link below to hear her interview.

Icons (a Greek word for images) are said to be 'written' and not 'painted'. The word Iconographer means 'a writer of pictures'.

audio Listen to Naomi Rowe's Iconographer interview >
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This tradition came about after the great Iconoclasm, or destruction of pictures, in the sixth century, following great controversy in the Church at that time over “'idolatrous images'.

At the great Council of Nicea in 787AD, the rules about Icons were formulated and one of the rules was, that because they tell stories, they can be said to be 'written' by those who painted them and 'read' by those who see them. Icons were finally restored in 843AD.

"I follow the ancient rules as closely as possible using only methods and materials that were available centuries ago," explains John Coleman.

St George
John's icon for St George

"Seasoned wood panels are primed with gesso (chalk powder and natural glue) with sometimes a canvas sheet to help cover any joins."

"Natural pigments are mixed with egg yolk and a little water, the yoke acting as emulsion, making the paint waterproof and permanent when cured and dry."

John's mission to produce a lasting tribute to St Endelienta will see the iconographer setting up base in St Endellion Church from October.   

last updated: 01/10/05
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