The mosaic that adorns the chapel of the Belgrade Archbishopric was created in 2006 by Dr. Father Marko Ivan Rupnik with the help of young artists from the Aletti Centre in Rome.
Acclaimed artist, who also painted the mosaic of papal chapel Redemptoris Mater, is known throughout the world. In addition to the unique mosaic works, he writes spiritual books translated into almost all languages of the world. The mosaic completes a harmonious whole with the chapel and shines the beauty of consecrated space.
According to the desire of the Belgrade Archbishop Stanislav Hočevar, the main theme of the chapel is “ENCOUNTER”. Therefore, Father Marko took a diagonal axis for the main trunk in this almost square room chapel. The diagonal here does not have geometric meaning only – the fact that two triangles are formed from one square with all the universal spiritual symbolism that is possible to imagine – but the active line is amidst, the magnetism of the room, which we consider an organism. The diagonal becomes the collection centre which connects and unites. This can be seen on the ceiling. It is marked with a diagonal line in an especially impressive way, the same can be seen at ambo placed in the centre of the diagonal, and most of all, at the altar, which is crossed by this diagonal of “encounter”, not division. Since the first thought that occurs with regard to diagonal is division, here we can see something completely different, which is shown by the table, ambo and altar, and that is the principle of mobility, dynamics and life.
The mosaic represents the iconographic scene deeply anchored in the Christian tradition, and it is the meeting of Mary of Nazareth and the Virgin, Mother of God and Mother, with Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife and the mother of John the Baptist. In our region there is a beautiful mosaic with this scene from the VI century – in Poreč. What is the significance of the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth? Why is this event so important for the Chapel of the Archdiocese of Belgrade? The city of Belgrade is situated at the point where the apostolic traditions of Peter and Andrew meet, and today’s leaders of the Catholic Church are trying to spread the idea of dialogue and unity among all Christians, according to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and messages of today’s Popes.
We can find the basic theological and spiritual elements of this memorable encounter in the Bible. Elizabeth was barren wife, in the age when she is no longer able to bear children. Infertility is a sign of human weakness, when it cannot give new life. But God has His divine grace and strength that can convert infertility to fertility, so pregnant Elizabeth becomes a sign of faith and a sign of Mary’s virginal motherhood. Mary is a virgin. Choosing virginity means consciously giving up essential human urge to extend their species and thus give priority to God, who is Life itself and the only one who gives life to others.
Elizabeth’s infertility becomes the sign of Mary’s virginal fertility. The protagonist of this encounter is Mary, and it Elizabeth’s greeting precisely that provokes in her the most beautiful eulogy that man has ever uttered the Lord.
The encounter of Elizabeth and Mary is actually meeting of the “internal” persons – children carried by these women, John the Baptist, a real man, and Jesus Christ, the real God. The author of the mosaic wanted to show Mary as the Mother of God, Mother of the Lord and Redeemer. Therefore she bears in her hands with great tenderness and love “mandylion” medallion. There is the figure of Christ the Savior on it, and it reveals the relationship of Mary and the incarnate Word of God. The word of God in Mary became the plot, man, Person. Elizabeth opens her arms in welcome and wants to embrace Mary and with her the Savior and God. Above Elizabeth there is the character of her child, John the Baptist, the Precursor of the Lord. His hands are going in the same direction as the hands of his mother – he is embracing Mary and Jesus Christ too. John is holding a shell, a symbol of what his mission will be – administering baptism. Mary comes as the Mother of God and brings Christ the Savior in her womb, and Elizabeth receives her as the mother of one who will, at the baptism in the river Jordan, first point out the Savior. Elizabeth is the first person in the Gospel recognizes Mary as Mother of the Savior and God, which is quite understandable, because she is carrying the one who will prepare the way the Savior. Therefore, in the encounter of two pregnant women it is actually Christ and the Baptist who meet.
Through the mosaic of this meeting of two God’s servants it becomes clear that whenever we encounter someone, it s important that we find in each other the way to the inner person. The same is true for the city of Belgrade as the city of encounters. The Holy Spirit in us yearns for us to encounter Christ and to meet each other. The encounter will in this way become the realization of that unimaginable longing that Christ the Lord awakens in us when he wants to meet with our innermost being.
A distinctive golden colour contributes to the decorativeness of the mosaic. The artist’s wish was to awaken the feeling of harmony and beauty in the viewer, the feeling of the heart which helps us find the in-depth content of the message hidden in the mosaic. In the part of the mosaic that extends around the main characters stones of different colors and shapes intertwine freely. In addition to gold, mosaic is dominated by blue and red colors, human and divine, and they are intertwined somewhere behind Mary and Elizabeth.
When we are leaving the chapel, at the door, an angel with a parchment in his hand bids us farewell from our sacred space. The angel is touching the ceiling with his wings, and his feet are on the floor of the chapel. With his appearance, the angel is reminding us of the Jacob’s ladder which connect heaven and earth. Golden and white reflect on him. On the parchment thus, there are the words of blessing: God bless you, guard you, his face shed light on you, look kindly on you, give you peace!
We leave the chapel, which encourages us all to internal recollection after the meeting with God in Holy Communion, as people lit the presence of God Himself. In everyday life we are obliged to do work that will show others that we really have met the Lord. That is why, as we are coming out of the chapel, the Angel endows the blessing of God on us, that may accompany us at every step we take. Thus blessed we go out in the world, which in a way means – God sent.
The large parchment which almost covers the angel says that our substance is the Word of God, because we were called to life by it, and according to it we need to shape our life and our personal progress. The more we do it, the more we will be like Christ the Lord in our everyday earthly life.