The Black Robin

Regan O'Callaghan Black Robin and Archangel Michael Icon, Religious Icon, egg tempera on gesso,


The Black Robin and Archangel Michael

The Black Robin lives in the Chatham Islands off the east coast of Aotearoa, New Zealand and like many birds they have had an immense struggle to survive as a species.   The Black Robin had succumbed to the introduction of pests like rats and along with the destruction of their habitat stood very little chance of survival.  Extinction seemed inevitable for the robins.   In 1980 there were only 5 individual birds left in the world!   They existed on a windswept scraggy rock called Little Mangere Island and of these 5 there was only two females and of these 2 only one was fertile.  Her name was 'Old Blue'.    With the plight of the robins being so dire the New Zealand Wildlife Service had to act quick.   Don Merton an experienced conservationist set in motion a plan to move the remaining birds to Mangere Island and have eggs from Old Blue incubated by Tomtits.  Through trial and error and over a number of years the Black robin population slowly increased.  Today there are about 250 Black Robins all descended from 'Old Blue' who lived to the grand old age of 14 which is a remarkable feat when the average life expectancy for the species was between 4 - 10 years.    Thanks to Old Blue, Don Merton and Kiwi innovation the Black robin continues to be still with us today.

In this icon dedicated to 'Old Blue' we see her take flight as Archangel  Michael the protector of the universe oversees and guards the whole of creation.


Prints are available here

Star People

Regan O'Callaghan Star People, pencil. gold leaf, swirlsWe all come from the stars!

We are all star people!  Recently I completed a commission for a priest who had moved parishes.  To celebrate his time in his previous parish he asked that I write  an icon depicting five people from his church.  The five were chosen for different reasons but all had played an important part in his ministry and spiritual journey.  When he commissioned me he said he had been inspired by the 3 Mothers triptych I had written for the Bishop of London.  He especially liked the table cloth decorated with numerous stars.

Stars have appeared in my work for many years mostly as symbols of hope and in the case of the 3 Mothers and this new commission as a symbol of the many descendants of Abraham.  "Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them..... So shall your descendants be."(Genesis 15: 5).

But it was while working on this commission that I began to reflect on the interconnectedness of our lives with the world and the universe.  I couldn't help but be philosophical as I sat painting star after star and the connecting lines between them.  It took hours of work but after awhile it became quite a prayerful process.   I remember feeling the same many years ago when I was working on a series of paintings influenced by the artist Victor Vasarely.  My mother thought I was going mad at the time because for months I sat painting grids and squares.  I loved it!

After I had finished the stars on this table cloth I reflected on my work.  The stars appeared to support the five people who sat around the table like they were being held up by the universe.  The five were not masters of the universe but rather instrumental parts of it.  One couldn't exist without the other.  I discussed this observation of mine with a friend thinking he would find it a little way out but contrary to my insecurities he didn't.  Instead he agreed and was able to put what I was thinking in a more scientific way.  As he understood the science, all the carbon atoms in the universe, which are of course essential to all living things, had to have been, and can only be forged in the extreme nuclear combustion present in stars, from the original element, hydrogen. From there carbon molecules, and a whole heap of the other elements were/are dissipated through the universe.  In other words we are all made of star dust!

As a child living on a farm in New Zealand where there was no light pollution the stars at night would fill the sky causing me to marvel at their beauty.  Wanting to be closer I would reach out to touch them.  Today I still remember the feeling I had of wanting to be closer to the stars, to be one of them and perhaps one day this will be realized when at my end I become dust carried off by the wind back into the sky towards the heavens.

"For he knows of what we are made; he remembers that we are but dust. Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field;  when the wind goes over it, it is gone and its place will know it no more." Prayer of Committal. Common Worship.

Regan O'Callaghan religious icon, sainthood of all believers, gold leaf, egg tempera



Regan O'Callaghan Dama wyn, religious icon, egg tempera, sainthood of all believers, cornishDama-wyn (Cornish for Grandmother) was a commission for a friend. Mary was his grandmother who lived to over a 100 years of age. This icon was commissioned as a devotional piece in remembrance of her and the positive influence she was in his life.

In this icon we celebrate the sainthood of all believers. The way we live today and throughout our lives will be remembered by those we leave behind when our call comes for our own onward journey. The challenge for us still living and learning in this world is to live a life in the present.  Not one haunted by regrets and guilt of the past or by fear of the future but rather by a life inspired by the important things in this world.  Family, friends, neighbors, the wonder and beauty of the natural world, the diversity of mankind, the sun , the moon and the stars.

Melkite Church, Israel.

Regan O'Callaghan Ibilin, Israel, Elias Chacour, Sermon on the Mount church

British Association of IconographersVoluntary project for the Melkite Church of the Sermon on the Mount‚ Ibillin, Israel.

In 2004/5 a dozen people from the British Association of Iconographers under the direction of Sister Bernadette Crook worked on an Iconostasis for a newly built Church in Ibillin, Israel.  The Iconostasis contains over 40 icons of various sizes. The BAI was approached by Elias Chacour a Palestinian Melkite Priest who has lived and worked in Ibillin for many years and is now the ArchBishop of Galilee.

Elias is the author of Blood Brothers - an account of his life.  From an early age Elias had a strong call to serve the Church and after years of study was ordained becoming the first Palestinian to earn a degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Elijah detail 1

Today Elias ministry is one of reconciliation and peace between Christians, Muslims, Druze and Jews.  The newly built Church in Ibillin is a Chapel of Peace with the Iconostasis reflecting the positive relationships between people of different faiths and cultures.

For example the icon of Elijah (written by Sister Bernadette) which traditionally shows a raven sent by God bringing sustenance to Elijah in the desert instead shows Bedouin bringing food. This is based on a translation of scripture which suggests the word raven has been mis-translated and should read Arab.

I worked mainly on the icon of Saint Andrew and Saint Peter and was privileged to be in attendance for the dedication of the Church and Iconostasis in 2005. 

All Saints Day 2010

 All Saints Day was celebrated at St Saviours Church Pimlico in style!  Students from my icon class displayed their work in front of the altar. The icons were blessed alongside the baptism of Hadrian Trafford-Roberts the grandson of Ros who presided over the service. I preached.  The icon class has now been running for over 4 years.  It began at St John on Bethnal Green and when I left there I moved it to St Saviours.  As you can see from the photos the students have become quite accomplished!