St Maria (Skobtsova) of Paris (1891-1945)

Hand painted icon of Mother Maria of Paris - egg tempera on wood, oil gilded

One of the most inspiring modern day saints with an astonishingly rich and varied life. She was a Russian intellectual, poet, nun and also a gifted artist, who lived in France and died in Ravensbruck choosing to go to the gas chamber in place of another prisoner. In Nazi-occupied Paris Mother Maria together with Fr Dimitri Klepinin sheltered Jews and helped to save Jewish lives also by organising to smuggle Jewish children out of the Parisian Velodrome where Jews were rounded up for transport to the concentration camps. Before the WWII Mother Maria ran a soup kitchen and shelter for the poor and homeless, notably she searched out and helped many Russian immigrants/ refugees often traumatised by their ordeal and unable to adapt to the life in France.

In the top left corner of the icon there is a small image of the Pieta. Mother Maria herself lost all three of her children (who she had before she became a nun!) and her own profound experience of finding meaning in suffering led her to understand and pour out consolation on other people in their grief.

The challenge in painting this icon lay in the fact that this is a recently canonised saint and there aren’t many icons of her yet, so I had to adapt Mother Maria’s image very familiar from the photographs, to the icon aesthetic, without losing her likeness and identity.

In the words of Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of Sourozh: “Mother Maria is a saint of our day and for our day; a woman of flesh and blood possessed by the love of God, who stood face to face with the problems of this century.”