Presentation Sisters: Story of the Icon Nano Nagle Icon

Presentation Sisters

Story of the Icon

Fancy Letter - It is now 200 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 color, what bare words can only do very inadequately.

The artist, Desmond Kyne, has chosen a youthful image of Nano to occupy the center panel, which is alive with color. She 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. This was Nano's central devotion and was the patronage she herself first gave to her Congregation.

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's apostolate toward children, especially those who were abused and exploited.

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The side panels of the icon elaborate some of the events and symbols of Nano's life. These include:

  • spiral motifs, the Celtic symbol of eternity and of God, the Father
  • the tabernacle, recalling Nano's extraordinary devotion to the Eucharist
  • a tiny window illuminating a cramped room, suggesting the poverty-stricken conditions of the cabin schools
  • Nano 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 poignant reminder of the conditions under which the people of Ireland lived during the days of the Penal Laws, which sought to destroy Irish Catholic identity - Nano achieved much in the face of such odds
  • Nano caring for the sick - she personally knew every garret and tenement in the city and, next to her house in Cove Lane, she built an almshouse for destitute elderly ladies
  • Nano with her lantern, a symbol of her joyful spirit and of her devotion to the poor, to whom she brought God's love, which touched and transformed the simple realities of their hard lives

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 icon follows closely the story-telling tradition and invitation to discover the mystery of God."

Framed copies of the icon, created with the kinetic stained glass technique, hang in many of the Presentation Convents.

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Please direct comments or requests for information to:

Sister Vera Butler, PBVM
1930 Robt. E. Lee Blvd.
New Orleans, LA 70122