On the Feast of Christ the King in the year 2000, Bishop Raymond Burke – then of the Diocese of La Crosse, and working as The Wisconsin Poet’s boss – consecrated the diocese to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For the enthronement, he commissioned an icon of the Sacred Heart to be painted (written) by four members of the monastic fraternity at St. Peter’s Church in Tilden. As part of the consecration, and in an effort to bolster familial life, Bishop Burke also encouraged families to consecrate their homes to the Sacred Heart, and to enthrone the image therein. The Wisconsin Carpenter brought a copy of the icon out west when he came to work on Casa Godsbody, and we consecrated our home when our cousin Father Luke came to visit. But it was just last night that I finally built a throne (out of leftover bits from the kitchen remodel):


  1. Mark Thomas says

    Very nice work.

  2. Matthew Lickona says

    Thanks. Needless to say, you inspired me on this one.

  3. We finally hung ours up last week, in our new abode… I hadn’t thought to frame it out.

    Nicely done!

  4. I think we’ve got a La Mesa Carpenter in the community. Well done.

  5. Hmm. As an Eastern Christian, I find this icon a little odd, not only because it violates all the strict canons about writing an icon, but also because I’ve never understood this Western (what to call it–mania? fetish? both are too strong and have connotations I do not intend) “thing” for holy body parts. Perhaps someone could enlighten me as to why there is such a need to expose hearts, display stigmata, etc. I don’t quite understand it. (Perhaps the same person could explain the Infant of Prague, which I REALLY don’t understand!!). I don’t mean any criticism in saying this–any devotion approved by the Church is fine by me if it leads people closer to God. And of course I’m not an iconoclast at all, and neither am I denying or even downplaying the need for an incarnational faith to have, well, incarnations of its central figures and doctrines. Eastern Christians of course are incarnational and iconographic in their faith and its displays. All I’m wondering is why the West has developed its own incarnational/iconographic displays in a way that seems to want to cut people open or watch them bleed, etc. What’s going on here?

  6. Matthew Lickona says

    Hey Adam,
    Thanks for asking! Always worth getting a new set of eyes on what has become everyday for some. I’ll mull, and in the meantime, could you lay out a couple of the ways this violates the strict canons of icon-writing?

  7. Johnny Vino says

    I know St. Isaac of Skete Orthodox monastery is in that neck of the woods (Boscobel to be precise). We have one of their Trinity replicas in our dining room.

    Just an aside. I doubt they did that Sacred Heart.

  8. Matthew Lickona says

    Right you are, Johnny. It was done by the monastic fraternity at St. Peter’s Church in St. Tilden.

  9. Matthew,

    Well the really obvious violation of the canonical convention is sticking that big ol’ heart right there in the middle. That’s something that’s never done. I’m not an iconographer, but I do know how seriously the canons are taken when it comes to icon-writing–the idea is to transmit the Tradition, not to introduce new ideas or ‘creativity’ into the icon because an icon is thought to be a form of divine revelation which one must transmit faithfully. Thus, strictly speaking, one says (as you noted) that one is “writing” an icon rather than painting because the diction is meant to underscore the notion that icons are written the way the gospels are written.

  10. Matthew Lickona says

    Point taken. In responding, I don’t pretend to be anything resembling an expert. But if the vision of the Sacred Heart is a revelation approved as authentic by the Church – even if, of course, it is not granted the same weight or authority or necessity as the Gospels – then is introducing it into an icon ‘creativity’? It’s not as if the artist is working from some personal of vision of his own here – he is being asked (by Bishop Burke in this case) to transmit the truth of the revelation (albeit a personal revelation) that was granted to Sister Alacoque. However personal, it was a revelation approved by the church, and referred to by Pope Pius XI in the encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor. So while it ain’t the Gospel, it does seem to have some place in the tradition. I mean, it’s not in the Gospel that angels showed the infant Christ the instruments of his crucifixion, and yet, there they are on the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. At some point, the image was introduced, no? (Again, I’m not a hostile party here, just a curious one.)

    Aside: For what it’s worth, the Wikipedia page on Sacred Heart notes that “devotion to the Sacred Heart may sometimes be seen in the Eastern Catholic Churches, where it remains a point of controversy and is seen as an example of liturgical latinisation.”

  11. Matthew, et al,

    I’m actually going to side with Adam on this one: I don’t think the iconic Sacred Heart IS part of the Roman tradition as such, and I too am sort of befuddled by the recent fascination with it.

    (Especially the vulgar Western practice of “iconizing” secular saints – Ghandi, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther (!) – I’ve even seen a Kurt Vonnegut, I think it was… It all reminds me very much of the mass marketing urge which is very much the (secular) Western way…)

    That said, I admit I have the same SH enthroned in my house (I live not 20 miles from said Skete – where the icon wasn’t written – and about 130 miles from said ISJ in Tilden, Wi. – where the original icon was written) but hanker for the more traditional (for RC’s anyway) perspective-and-shadow laden images of the SH.

    I seem to remember something from one of my art history classes about the Western (i.e. Catholic Church) invention of perspective being the beginning of technology as we know it. I don’t remember exactly why – but I do remember that it made sense – I think it had to do with the fact that the versimilitude which perspective and shadow generated was a momentuous coupling of art and science, etc. (By analogy, think of the budding medieval secondary sciences – combining philosophical knowledge with practical arts – optics and alchemy (i.e. chemistry). These fledgling sciences, among others, led the way to that doubled-edged sword of technology which made the West what it was at its height and, alas, in part, what it is today.

    Which isn’t to say something wasn’t lost – an inherent theological purity in art, for instance – in not cultivating the iconic tradition. I guess what I am trying to say is that the tradition which the Christian West did pursue remains just as vibrant today, and by gummit, why don’t we celebrate it – or, with people like Daniel Matsui around, why don’t we renew it? (Admittedly, it will be a small band of people willing to throw out their “modern” art, but small is beautiful, right?)

    I believe Archbishop Burke at the time wished, as Matthew noted, to have the diocesan faithful “see” the SH anew as he was reintroducing this devotion into our diocese – he enthroned the SH in the Cathedral and thereby in the Diocese of La Crosse in 2000, a fitting way to begin the new milennium.

    Also, at the risk of sounding critical of your masterful woodworking efforts, Matthew, – and please Adam correct me if I’m wrong here – I believe the iconic traditon eschewed any framing of the icon – at least a frame which broke the original plane of the icon.

    Still, be that as it may, you did a fine job with your throne…. And perhaps the framing speaks all the louder to the way the West has successfully adopted – if not adapted – the Eastern Icon.

    Well, I’ve probably said enough and most of it no doubt wrong….


    p.s. Perhaps for another blog, another time, but the whole doctrine of Christ the King (of the earth, of nations, of people and not just individuals) waits in the wings to be discussed. To wit: Quixotic as it sounds, at the very least, the Church has the right to expect that somewhere somehow someone with the authority of the U.S. government (perferably the President) should be enthroning Christ as the King of the United States – and of its laws – in accordance with His Divine Will.

    (Hoo-hoo haa-haa they’re coming to take me away, ha-ha! They’re coming to take me away!)

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