Catholic Vitamin O: Orans

Orans – a prayer posture is often seen on early paintings and images from Christian antiquity. As you will see below, icons (some in the Orans posture) adorned the catacombs. And not just prayer positions, but iconic paintings  and images of Christ, the saints, and Bible stories were depicted and such. It is so strange that in the Protestant reformation that paintings, icons, tile mosaics and statues were all but done away with (in the break-away churches), because there is no doubt at all that the very earliest Christians used such as these to teach, to inspire and to remind.

It seems that the tradition of showing respect and veneration to images developed gradually, and since there are often many levels in the catacombs, we see the growth of this ‘artwork.’

Now it truly was a gift from the Lord to have researched our way into connection with Marianna Bartholomew. We have learned much from her years associated with the mission fields here in the United States. And then – and then, when you give her an assignment – like do a segment on the topic of Orans — O-rans or Oh-Rahns — just listen to what she comes up with. What a gift. Thank you so very much Marianna —

And now let me share some background on this Catholic Vitamin. I selected Orans as the Vitamin because of something I experienced in the catacombs on the outskirts of Rome. We were down in the Catacombs of St. Callistus just off the Appian way. We picked up a priest/guide who led us down to the second floor/level of this catacomb. We walked through narrow corridors lit by a single string of bulbs over head.

You could place your hands into the cutouts where the bodies or martyrs and early Christians were placed at their death. These cutouts are called loculi — and for some reason, my heart and mind were strongly moved by touching the gravel and dirt where once these slain Catholics first rested. Most all of the bodies have been removed – they were gone from the level we were on…

But here’s the thing I want to share with you — every so often you would come to a larger burial area. Our priest guide told us that these larger areas inside the catacombs could be for larger and probably well-to-do Christians… Sometimes the slightly larger areas were for bishops and their deacons. And all of this is to say that every so often, we would come to a larger area, better lit and you would see icons and paintings and frescoes and sculptures …… and there would be displays of people praying — hands raised in the orans position… and there were other scenes telling stories from the Old and New Testament.

Why was I so moved by seeing the icons and artwork? My heart immediately connected the prayer position of the priest at Mass with what I saw in certain places in the catacombs. And what completed this story I share with you is that as we were making our way back towards the steps that would lead us up to ground level – I heard something down a slightly darkened corridor – and I saw much light about 75 or 100 feet away… I quickly moved towards the light and the noise – and there was a priest – a French priest saying Mass over an altar — Mass for his French tourists… Mass said in a room dating back to the earliest Christians… I love our faith… This experience helped my love to grow.


What would you like to know, as a beginner on the topic of ICONS? To answer that, we searched out an expert on this early form of art.

David Clayton is on the faculty of The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire. He is the Artist in Residence and a Fellow at the college. You can reach him through a direct email to: or by going to his wonderful website:

We apologize that the (Skype) recording we used that day was a little hollow and in an echo mode from time to time. It was the best we were able to do – but if you listen closely, you’ll learn a great deal about the history and the approach that ‘the professor’ helps to lead us in knowing about Icons.

Thank you professor. And to our listeners — we hope you enjoy the show.




We played just one song on this podcast. It was a song written by a good friend of Catholic Vitamins. His name is RUSS RENTLER. He (and his wonderful wife) have been on the EWTN COMING HOME SHOW where they told their story of reversion (and conversion) the our wonderful Catholic faith.

The song we played on the show is STAINED GLASS WINDOWS, and you can find Russ’ music and much more by visiting his website:

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.