Fr Michael Krychiwskyj was a heady brew of traditional Catholic orthodoxy and Yorkshire grit, known for his extravagant, full-on delivery of sermons, hymns and the Gospel. Everything he did was authentic and done either at maximum volume or with the utmost reverence. But he also brought something else rarely seen in Catholic churches: icons.
With a Ukrainian father and an Italian mother, he was exposed to the luxurious devotional art of both those traditions. He had grown up attending both St Walburga’s Latin Rite Church in Shipley and Holy Trinity Ukrainian Rite Church in Bradford.
An effect of Vatican II has been a focus on ourselves: our “community”. Sometimes the hymns written since the 1970s engender an all-purpose “niceness”, and a religious mood that is vague and “feel-good” but which seldom acknowledges the supernatural or celebrates the unstinting bounty and beauty of the truth and the Good News.
As the larger-than-life parish priest at St Jeanne Jugan parish in Headingley, Leeds, Fr Michael emphasised the supernatural forcefully and ebulliently. The rosary and Benediction were said frequently and to a full church. Our cup most certainly did overflow at St Jeanne Jugan, with image after image from the Scriptures, of the saints, Gospel scenes and holy and blessed events. These were depicted in Fr Michael’s icons.
The way icons consistently present objective truths via a standardised lexicon of imagery and symbols is not something that comes easily to someone like me whose experience was largely confined to the much more individualistic and subjective traditions of Western art. I’m still a novice, to be sure.
Soon after arriving at the Headingley churches of St Urban and Our Lady of Lourdes, Fr Michael commissioned the renowned iconographer Aidan Hart to paint frescoes for the reredoses of both churches, using a legacy that had been ring-fenced for sacred art. In St Urban’s, a massive image of the Resurrection; in Our Lady of Lourdes, a similarly gigantic Transfiguration. These frescoes were done in the traditional way, painted directly onto wet plaster. They are permanent works of great beauty and great truth.
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