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March, 2019
Volume 45, Number 1
  
23 June 2016
Greg Kandra




The icon known as “Our Lady Who Brings Down Walls” appears on the separation wall in Jerusalem. (photo: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem)

The website for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem last week told the story of a powerful image of the Virgin Mary that has profound meaning for the people of a divided land:

Graffiti painted along the Separation wall, charged with political and social messages, have always been a form of protest against Israel’s unjust measures. Near the Emmanuel Monastery in Bethlehem, an icon of the Mother of God emerges on the 8-meter high concrete wall, revealing with its beauty the failure of communities to love one another.

Made at the request of the local faithful and some internationals, the icon of Our Lady who brings down walls was written on the Separation wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem in 2010. The purpose of their request was clear; an icon that could bring along hope that the wall would come down some day.

According to Ian Knowles, the iconographer who wrote the icon, the inspiration behind Our Lady originated from a speech that Pope Benedict XVI had given at a special assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops in 2010. During the assembly, His Holiness referred to chapter 12 of the book of Revelation and talked about a woman who is clothed with the sun and gives birth with a cry of pain. He linked how this chapter in the Bible is a prophecy about the suffering of Christians in the Middle East. “That gave me an image of Mary, who is pregnant, clothed with the sun chased by the beast that wants to devour her child,” Ian pointed out.

Before the visit of Pope Francis to the Holy Land in 2014, graffiti of a giant serpent, that is eating babies, was painted along the wall that leads to the icon of Mother of God. “It is quite prophetic to see this serpent near the icon of Our Lady. In the book of revelation, the woman is chased by the beast, which wants to eat her child” Ian said. “Once the image was complete, it was as though it called out the hideousness of the wall.”

Read more about the icon. And if the name Ian Knowles sounds familiar, he was profiled not long ago in the pages of ONE:

Mr. Knowles waxes rhapsodic when describing how icons continue to fascinate Christians after so many centuries. “It’s a profoundly spiritual art. It’s not a secular art about a spiritual theme; this is actually in some ways an embodiment of Christian culture. ... It’s a bit like a relic: You actually touch God, in a way — not because of what it looks like, but because of the thing itself. The whole process by which it’s created and made and fashioned and worked is within a profoundly religious context, so it sort of incarnates it.”

You can also learn more about the meaning and importance of icons here.