Book Review: Britanniae Gloria by George Ioannou

George Ioannou is a London-based iconographer of Greek-Cypriot descent, and a follower of the Society's Facebook page. He has just published Britanniae Gloria, the Glory of Britain: An Iconographer's Pattern Book of the British and Irish Saints from the 1st to the 11th Century (Scunthorpe, Bluestone Books, 2019), the full title of which I think is fairly self-explanatory.

The book is the result of some 30 years' work, and features over 1000 saints of the British Isles. The saints are arranged in order of their feast day. Each one has a short biographical entry, and a cartoon (in the original meaning of the word) showing how they ought to be depicted in iconography. There are also outlines of icons showing multiple saints, such as All Saints of Glastonbury (feast day: 26th December). Rather pleasingly, each month begins with an illustration in the style of a medieval woodcut showing the main agricultural activity for that month (January: ploughing; February: cutting wood and so on)

To give you an example of this book's contents, the pattern for an Icon of St Ealdhelm (Aldhelm) is shown. The biographical entry reads as follows:

  • NAME/DESCRIPTION: See line drawing
  • HISTORICAL TITLE: Bishop of Sherborne (+709 AD)
  • BRIEF LIFE: A monk and later Abbot of Malmesbury. Founded monasteries at Frome and Bradford-on-Avon. He later was consecrated a bishop in 705 AD. He is remembered for his songs, poems and devotional works.
  • PROVENANCE/SOURCE: Image of saint from illuminated manuscript (early 10th century) - British Library
  • ATTRIBUTES: Holds a bejewelled golden lyre/harp
  • NOTE: Can hold a bejewelled golden bible

The list of saints covered seems very comprehensive. On cross-referencing it with The Hallowing of England by Fr Andrew Phillips, one of Ioannou's sources, I was able to find only a few Wessex saints who were apparently not included. However, this could be due to their being commemorated on different dates to the ones Phillips lists. Unfortunately the book lacks an alphabetical index of saints, making it a bit laborious to check.

This minor criticism aside, the book is obviously a labour of love, and should hopefully be a boost to the artistic depiction of the saints of these lands.

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