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Story of The Icon

It is now more than 250 years since Nano Nagle walked the streets of Cork. Her influence through the Presentation Sisters in these two centuries has stretched far beyond any limits she herself could have imagined. This icon presents, with all the power of symbols and colour, what mere words can only do inadequately.

The artist, Desmond Kyne, has chosen a youthful image of Nano Nagle to occupy the center panel, which is alive with color. Nano stands in calm majesty, and suggests both patience and endurance. In the center of the icon is the image of the Sacred Heart, treated here in an imaginative and probably unfamiliar way. The Sacred Heart was Nano Nagle’s central devotion.

At Nano’s feet is a group of children. Buildings symbolizing the city of Cork are to either side with the Southgate Bridge on the left and the Northgate Bridge on the right. These areas were the center of Nano Nagle’s apostolate toward children, many of them abused and exploited.The side panels of the icon elaborate some of the events and symbols of Nano Nagle’s life. These include:

  • Spiral motifs, the Celtic symbol of eternity and of God, the Father
  • The tabernacle, recalling Nano Nagle’s extraordinary devotion to the Eucharist
  • A tiny window illuminating a cramped room, suggesting the poverty-stricken conditions of the cabin schools
  • Nano Nagle holding a book, a symbol of literacy and learning, which she so highly prized
  • The four founding sisters, standing near a well of living water
  • The gallows, a reminder of the conditions under which the Irish-Catholic people lived during the days of the Penal laws, which sought to destroy their identity
  • Nano Nagle caring for the sick… she personally knew every garret and tenement in the city
  • Nano Nagle with her lantern, a symbol of her joyful spirit and of her devotion to the poor, to whom she brought God’s love

Framed copies of the Nano Nagle icon, created with the kinetic stained technique, hang in many of the Presentation Sisters Convents worldwide.

The original life-size icon can be found at the Nano Nagle Center, Ballygriffin, County Cork, Ireland.

The artist himself writes:

“It is entirely appropriate, and in the best traditions of the early church in Ireland, that Nano Nagle should be honored by icon and by symbol. No people in Europe better understood or expressed the life-giving, truth-revealing power of symbolism than did our forefathers. The Nano Nagle icon follows closely the story-telling tradition and invitation to discover the mystery of God.”