Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Icon of the Virgin of Vladimir
Icon of the Virgin of Vladimir
Reliquary Arm
Reliquary Arm

How can art facilitate communication with the divine?

In many religions, art and architecture have been used to concentrate spiritual energy or force in one spot. These “power points” might take the form of ephemeral chalked crosses on the ground as in Bakongo practice or monumental architecture as at Chichén Itzá. Often, however, they are precious objects and images crafted on a human scale and in permanent materials. Icons and reliquaries offer two examples of such “power points.” Both objects act simultaneously as loci of veneration and channels of communication between the pious and the divine.

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Questions to Consider

  • In what ways are the functions of the icon and the reliquary similar? In what ways are they different? How does each speak to the beliefs, needs, and values of the religious community that created it?
  • Both the Icon of the Virgin and the reliquary arm incorporate rich materials. In what ways might costly materials such as gold enhance the function of such objects?
  • How do these objects attain their respective spiritual power? What role does visual form play in conveying the authenticity and authority of each object?