The Holy Face icon
Figurines and paintings of Buddha, the Virgin Mary, saints, fairies, and angels are easy to find. I love representations of the holy, and I’ve made an interdenominational shrine of my front porch. But when I went on a quest for a “good” Jesus – not the blond, Anglo image I grew up with in the 1970s – I found him surprisingly rare in the thrifting world …
… and then this astonishing piece came to me.
The traditional story is that King Abgar, a leper, sent his messenger to ask Jesus to come to him so he could be healed. Instead, Jesus pressed a linen napkin to His own face, and the image His face was imprinted on the linen like a painting. This original relic was subsequently known as the Image of Edessa.
When Abgar received this “icon not made by human hands,” he was healed of his leprosy. The Holy Face is considered the first icon, and one typically sees the image portrayed with a cloth napkin behind it.
This particular icon was hand-painted in acrylics, including gold leaf. At 15 inches by 15 inches, it’s a large piece in a “modern traditional” style. With a painting of this religious significance, I wanted to be sure it was rightfully mine. If it had been stolen, or if it belonged in a church, I wanted to do right by it. So I wrapped it in a blanket and took it to a few local experts for advice.
Ann Margitich is an icon painter at St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Christian Church in Santa Rosa, known to many Sonoma County residents as the church that hosts the annual Glendi International Food Festival. Mrs. Margitich directed me to a 2-volume set, Theology of the Icon, by Leonid Ouspensky, for background on iconography and The Holy Face.
Daniel Shultz of Not of This World Icons on Mendocino Avenue (a few doors north of my own Unitiarian Universalist congregation) thought it might have been painted by the former abbot of Holy Transfiguration Monastery of Redwood Valley, but a phone call to Father Abbot Damian Higgins at Holy Transfiguration Monastery confirmed that it was not their Brother Joseph.
If anyone can tell me more about the iconographer from the dedication on the back, please let me know.
Normally, a church or individual would commission such a piece. Still, both Mrs. Margitich and Mr. Schultz assured me that I could own it, and Mrs. Margitich said, “They say an icon goes to whomever is supposed to have it.”
I have been blessed.
Purchased at Sacks on the Square thrift store, Railroad Square, Santa Rosa, California
Paid: $7.50. Value: $500-1000.