This week, we learned about Saint Romanos the Melodist since we commemorate him on October 1st and he is part of our 4th grade GOA curriculum.
The main goals for this week were to learn about the life of Saint Romanos, find where he lived on the map, listen to the kontakion he wrote – The Nativity of Christ, and learn how to read the various icons of Saint Romanos.
In addition to the outline, you’ll also need the following for this lesson:
- Sweet Song: A Story of Saint Romanos the Melodist by Jane G Meyer
- An electronic device large enough for the students to watch and listen to the YouTube videos (I used my iPad and let them huddle around it.)
- One or more icons of Saint Romanos
Kontakion of The Nativity of Christ in English
Kontakion of The Nativity of Christ in Arabic
Kontakion of The Nativity of Christ in Greek & English
Kontakion of The Nativity of Christ in Slavonic
The goal of this next activity was to give my students a basic introduction to reading iconography.
I had four different icon prints of Saint Romanos and had placed each of them in a sheet protector to keep them safe in my binder while transporting them. (I got the icons from here.) We taped them onto the white board, still in the sheet protectors, and began asking the children questions. It was nice because we were able to visually draw and point to what we were talking about in each icon without damaging them. We simply wiped off the dry erase marker from the white board and sheet protectors when we were done.
Brief Introduction to Iconography:
This was simply a starting point for my students. When I probed with questions, they did not have any background information on how to read an icon.
We had four different icons of Saint Romanos. We explained that there are guidelines for iconographers when they are making an icon. As we looked at the white board, we could immediately tell that all four of these images were icons by their style but even though they are the same person, each icon was different. We went on to explain that if I asked everyone in their family to tell me about Christmas morning last year – their mom, dad, brothers, and sisters would all have a slightly different story to tell me, even if everyone shared the exact same experience. The same is true with iconographers. So, we looked at the four icons and found the main point all of the iconographers wanted to share about Saint Romanos – he was a writer. Saint Romanos wrote church music called kontakia. His most famous kontakion is The Nativity of Christ, sung on Christmas. (see above)
In iconography, saints will usually be holding one or more items in their hand(s) which tells us about their life. In Saint Romanos’ icons, we saw him holding scrolls (for writing music and in reference to the story of the Theotokos placing a scroll on his lips), a book (for writing music), a quill (for writing music), a church (he sang and served in the church), and/or a censer (he is often depicted in the icons as a deacon).
The clothes of a saint will also tell us a story about their life. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that synthetic dyes were invented which allowed us the ease and consistency of acquiring pigment for a wide variety of uses. For example, dyeing all fabric, paints, crayons, etc. Before the 1800’s, it took special knowledge of how to make dyes from natural resources. It was relatively easy to produce colors such as brown, tan, yellow, and green but it was extremely difficult to produce a vibrant red, blue, or purple. These three colors are often referred to as royal colors because only royalty could afford to buy these dyes. Therefore, if the saint is wearing any of these three colors, they are most likely royalty, someone extremely special (for example, Christ and the Theotokos), or a deacon, priest, or bishop wearing vestments.
Teacher Lesson Prep & Connections:
Here are some resources I used when researching for this lesson. This lesson could easily extend into a study of natural dyes and the Medici family to understand the use and importance of color in icons.
I’ve studied natural dyes with all of my kids over the years. Last autumn, my boys and I researched the plants in our backyard and found that we could use black walnuts and goldenrod as natural dyes. We processed both of them to dye t-shirts. We used the book “Harvesting Color” to guide us.
Additional Resources I’ve Used for Research for Our Homeschool Studies:
- Mauve: How one man invented a color that changed the world by Simon Garfield
- A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire by Amy Butler Greenfield
- Blue: The History of Color by Michel Pastoureau
- Empires – The Medici – The Medici were known for their love of art and they flaunted their wealth through the rich and vibrant colors they were able to commission in artwork. At that time, wearing red, blue, and purple or commissioning artwork displayed your wealth and power. The Medici family was making a fierce and powerful political statement through their use of color.
- The Icon: Window on the Kingdom by Michel Quenot