I have had a great devotion to Icons since my conversion at the hands of the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima in 1972 and later with my association with the Icon of Our Lady of Soufanieh in Damascus. The Icon of Soufanieh is a western rendition of the Icon of Kazan, one of the most famous Icons in the world.

If you considered the Shroud of Turin an Icon it would be the greatest in the world, but this is more than an Icon.  It is a photograph of God and contains our redemptive blood. It therefore becomes the greatest relic in the world - even more than a relic. There is a chalice in Spain called the Holy Grail, however it is not the real Holy Grail, as it is the bowl used by Christ to hold the bread.  It was later made into what looks like a chalice. This is not an Icon but a relic. Even the real Holy Grail, when found, is a relic and not an Icon. Icons are renditions of Christ, Mary, Saints or famous stories (picture or statue), done by man. They were and are used to teach the faith to millions in any language.

Saint Luke is the best known of these Icon artists and he is said to have painted from four to six of the most famous of the Icons of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child, with great religious insights and lessons in all of them. Some early Church statues have been transported by angels to Spain and Portugal where we can see them to this day but we do not know who the artists were. (More on that in another Newsletter!)

Because I have worked many years for the unity of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches and have written many books on the subject of the divisions, Icons have become a great study. It was Iconoclasm (the destruction of Icons - pictures and statues) that started the split between the east and the west. Of course, the Jews objected to idols because people worshiped them, but they did not object to pictures and statues if they were not worshiped as gods, and in fact, had them in their temple.

During the occupation of Rome, the Jews convinced the Emperor to keep their idols out of the Holy Places of the Jews, but they did not object to statues of the Emperors or the Roman rulers, providing they were not considered gods.

During the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD many Icons were removed from the Holy Lands and brought into Europe for safety. Later when Mohammed started his march through the east in the seventh century, Iconoclasm became the main problem of the Catholic Church, fighting against Mohammed.   Some eastern Bishops, and even the Emperor held that Icons were a sin.  The Pope condemned all who held that icons were a sin unless used as idolatry. During the time of the Iconoclasm heresy, Icons were taken out of the Holy Lands and brought to safety in Europe and Russia.

An Icon becomes famous by its devotions, but there is one Icon that is not very famous in the western world except for a few people in Portugal and a great deal of people in Brazil. Although it is not well known, my own research into it makes me believe it is the Greatest Icon in the World.


About 45 minutes from Fatima is the beach town of Nazare.  It is called Nazare because in this town on the high mountain is a statue of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child carved by Saint Joseph in Nazareth when Christ was less than a year old.  In the forth century a monk named Ciriaco brought the statue to Bethlehem from Nazareth and gave it to Saint Girolamus who gave it to Saint Augustine. Augustine sent it to the monastery of Merida in Spain for safety. 

When the Saracens invaded Spain, King Rodrioguez and a monk, named Brother Germanus took the statue to Sitio (Nazare) and hid it in a cave.  

In 1181 AD Dom Fuas Roupinho was hunting deer on the same mountain where the cave with the statue was kept.  A deer posessed by the devil tried to draw him to his death by leading his horse to the edge of the cliff.  As the deer leaped over the cliff, his horse followed to the point that only his two back hoofs remained on the edge of the rocks.  There in mid air the horse froze with Dom Roupninho on his back.   In front of the Dom stood Our Lady.  He beseeched Her for help and was miraculously saved.  Dom had a chapel built at the spot and placed the famous statue in it. 

Later the church was built and the statue moved to the high alter.   Among the millions of pilgrims who have prayed there are Vasco de Gama before going to India and Saint Francis Savior before going to Asia. 

Map to Nazare

Joseph was a carpenter, and although many theologians think otherwise he did not make yokes for oxen. What he made mostly was furniture and dividing screens for rooms. In those days houses were mostly one room, with moveable screens to separate one area from another. These screens were framed in wood and the center was woven wood from 1/2 to 2 inches wide. The frames would always have some carvings on them, as would any furniture. The carpenter would not necessarily be good at carving, but he had to be good enough to do simple designs or would not be able to sell his work. Joseph would have to have been able to carve reasonably well.

When I was told that the statue I was about to see in Nazare was carved by Saint Joseph, I though of just how good this would be, since he was not a real artist but only a furniture carver. I then though of why he would try to do something he had never done before and what was he trying to capture in time and for all others to see? What was so important to him? I decided before seeing it that it had to be very important and the artwork would have to be substandard for me to believe Joseph did it. You can see this statue up close even though it is above the altar by the use of a stairway from the back of the altar. I was able to get within four inches of the statue to investigate it.


There is no question in my mind that Saint Joseph carved this statue. First of all because the quality is exactly as I suspected. The detail is not very good, especially in the faces. But the non-body work is very good as would be expected from a furniture carver. Most of the statue is dark wood except for the bottom, which shows some painting. It is claimed that Mary, Herself, gave this statue to Saint Luke and he added paint to it. Over the years most of the paint has been kissed away and you can see most of the statue just as Saint Joseph carved it without paint and with just minor weathering over the years.

Because of the subject mater of the statue, it is not likely that anyone except Saint Joseph would have carved it. Saint Joseph (in contemplating Christ as God, and Mary as the Mother of His human nature, which cannot be separated from His Divine nature) was struck with awe, love and amazement at how God, Himself, would come into the world through a woman and then be sustained by this same woman for His very survival as a person. God chose to take all His human nature from the woman, flesh, blood, bone, and soul. He even chose to grow in the natural way by taking from this woman the food to grow from a baby to a child. It is this intimate moment that Saint Joseph wanted to capture for all time, the Mother of God, although made by God, feeding God from her own body.

An Icon is great for four reasons: the subject of the Icon, the artist, miracles, and devotion. In my opinion, this Icon was made by the greatest of all the saints in the world. In my opinion, this Icon has the greatest of all theological lessons: taking from Her body His flesh, blood, bone, soul and nourishment, He could not allow Her to be stained with sin (or even imperfections) in any way. That being the case, all other titles of Mary are little compared to Mother of God. So the subject is the Mother of God.

If the artist is Saint Joseph, he is the greatest of all saints, as Mary is more than a saint. The miracles attributed to this statue are written in tiles all over the town, church, walk ways, and in books of Nazare. Devotion to this statue goes back to the knights who protected Portugal from the Moors, to most of the Captains who sailed into the Atlantic seeking new worlds, to the peoples of these new worlds, in America, Asia, India, and China, who credit this statue for protecting them in their uncharted travels.


As far as I know you cannot find a copy of this statue anywhere except Nazare. I do not know why. Even in Nazare they do not know why other people are not selling copies of this statue. You cannot find it in Fatima. There is a great devotion to it in Brazil because there is a connection to the discovery of Brazil and the New World to Nazare, and so I assume you can find copies of it there. Perhaps it is just not well known enough in the rest of the world. Even the books and cards you can find do not tell the entire true story (Modernist influence). Perhaps the influence of Modernists over the past 90 years has softened this devotion, I do not know. What I do know is that the good books are last century books and they have not been reprinted. There is no copyright to the Icon, so any company can make it, but they do not. The statues in Nazare that you can buy are not very close to the original. They are much better artwork, and I think this takes away from the authenticity.

I bought four of them: one for myself, and three for my children. I think it would be a sin for anyone to go to Fatima without also going to Nazare. This is only one of many places you might have missed in your last trip to Fatima. Come again and again and again to Fatima and you will never see everything.


The miracle of Nazare 

The Icon of Nazare

Rick Salbato - The Publican