The River of Life

Honan Chapel River of Life


River of Life Mosaic
Honan Chapel, University College, Cork, Ireland (1916)
Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd, Manchester, England

The iconographic program of the mosaic floor of the Honan Chapel is shaped by liturgical song. The Canticle of the Three Young Men in the Fiery Furnace (Daniel 3:51­–90) is quoted in the borders of the mosaic. It is a canticle of praise, calling the whole created world to bless and exalt God above all forever. All the creatures and elements named in the canticle are depicted in the mosaic, though not all have identifying descriptions. Shown above is the river of life, which flows from a sunburst at the western end of the chapel, where the baptismal font is now located, down the center aisle, to the altar.

The Daniel Canticle is sung at the canonical hour of Lauds on Sundays and feast days. Lauds, or Morning Prayer, is an office celebrated in the light of a new day and associated with Christ’s resurrection. In the edition of the Roman Breviary current at the time of the floor’s designing, this canticle was followed by three praise psalms (148–150). In the mosaic, verse 7 of Psalm 148 appears at the point where the western end of the nave meets the central aisle, leading Jane Hawkes to observe that “the decoration of the chapel, and the manner in which it is organized, can be understood within the framework of the celebration of Lauds.”[1]

The Daniel Canticle is of course not merely a hymn to the wonders of nature. In the biblical narrative the song arises from the pure hearts of three young men who were willing to undergo martyrdom rather than practice idolatry. Miraculously preserved from the fire that ought to have burned them to death, they sing this song. Christians have read the story of the three young men as a type or figure of the resurrection, lending an additional layer of theological significance to the song as an expression of eschatological hope. The passage from Daniel describing their trial by fire was included in the Roman Catholic lectionary for the Easter Vigil (from 1570 to 1951) as part of the catechumens’ final catechesis before baptism.

— Editor



[1] Jane Hawkes, “The Honan Chapel: An Iconographic Excursus,” in The Honan Chapel: A Golden Vision, ed. Virginia Teehan and Elizabeth Wincott Heckett (Cork: Cork University Press, 2004), p. 114.

Detail from the mosaic floor in the Honan Chapel (1916), photographed by Daniel C. Doolan. Photograph used with kind permission of the Board of the Honan Trust, Cork. See more at the Honan Chapel & Collection online.

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Canticle of the Sun II

John Coburn: "Canticle of the Sun II" (c) 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VISCOPY, Australia
John Coburn: Canticle of the Sun II, 1974 (c) 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VISCOPY, Australia

Canticle of the Sun II, 1974
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas; 91.5 x 91.0 cm
John Coburn
Sydney, Australia

Canticle of the Sun II is one of three related works by the Australian artist John Coburn (1925–2006): Canticle of the Sun (1965) oil on board, 162.0 x 152.5 cm; Canticle of the Sun II (1967) oil on canvas, 74.5 x 85.0 cm; and the 1974 work pictured above. Alex Mitchell writes of Coburn that “he sought a confluence of Western European culture, the Roman Catholic religion, Aboriginal spirituality, and nature.”[1]

The title and inspiration of this work come from a song composed by the thirteenth-century mystic Francis of Assisi.

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.

Some of Coburn’s best-known works appear in venues for the performing arts. He designed the Curtain of the Sun and the Curtain of the Moon for the Sydney Opera House. The Creation, a work comprised of seven tapestries, was given as a gift from the Australian government to the United States. It hangs in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

— Editor


*Reproduction, including downloading of John Coburn works, is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


[1] Alex Mitchell, “John Coburn: Spirit of Abstraction,” Art Collector, Issue 14 (October–December, 2000): 97.

View article as a PDF: Coburn Canticle of the Sun