INTERPRETATION OF A MOSAIC IN A CHAPEL OF BELGRADE ARCHDIOCESE
Splendid mosaic, that adorns the chapel of Belgrade Archdiocese, was created in 2006 by Dr Father Marko Ivan Rupnik with help from young artists from the Aletti Centre in Rome. The acclaimed artist, who also painted a mosaic in papal chapel Redemptoris Mater, is known the world over. Besides making unique mosaics, he also writes spiritual books that are translated into almost all languages. The mosaic makes a harmonious whole with the chapel and beams with beauty of consecrated space.
Main theme of the chapel is an “ENCOUNTER”, according to wish of Belgrade Archbishop Stanislav Hočevar. Therefore, Father Marko took a diagonal axis as main linear axis in this almost square–like room in chapel. The diagonal here doesn’t have geometric meaning only – the fact that two triangles are formed from one square with all universal spiritual symbolism that we can possibly imagine – but an active line is amidst, magnetism of room at which we look as an organism. The diagonal becomes the centre which connects and unites. This can be seen on the ceiling. It is marked with a diagonal line in an especially impressive way and this can also be seen at ambo placed in the centre of diagonal, and mostly at the altar, through which this diagonal of “encounter”, and not diagonal of division, goes. Since the first thought that comes to mind when we mention word diagonal is division, here we can see something completely different, which is shown by the table, ambo and altar, and that is principle of mobility, dynamics and life.
Mosaic of Encounter in Belgrade
The mosaic represents an iconographic scene deeply anchored in the Christian tradition, and that is the encounter of Mary of Nazareth, i.e. Virgin, Mother of God with Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife and mother of John the Baptist. There is a beautiful mosaic with this scene from the 6th century in Poreč. What is significance of the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth? Why is this event so important for Chapel of the Archdiocese of Belgrade? Belgrade is located at point where apostolic traditions of Peter and Andrew meet, and today’s leaders of the Catholic Church are trying to spread idea of dialogue and unity among all Christians, according to teachings of the Second Vatican Council and morals of today’s Popes.
Mary and Elizabeth’s Encounter
We can find basic theological and spiritual elements of this memorable encounter in the Bible. Elizabeth was a barren woman, in age when she is no longer able to bear children. Infertility is a sign of human weakness, when a human being cannot give a new life. But God with His divine grace and strength can convert that 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 to consciously give up on 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 – the sign of Mary’s virginal motherhood
Elizabeth’s infertility becomes the sign of Mary’s virginal fertility. The protagonist of this encounter is Mary, and it is precisely Elizabeth’s greeting that in Mary provokes the most beautiful eulogy that a human has ever uttered to the Lord. We discover that this encounter is so much more than the encounter of pregnant women who expect to give birth to their children. This magnificent encounter was possible due to openness to God’s Spirit and due to deep humbleness, which both women have in common.
The Encounter of Jesus Christ and John the Baptist
The encounter of Elizabeth and Mary is actually an encounter of “internal” people – children carried by these women, John the Baptist, a real man, and Jesus Christ, the real God. The author of mosaic wanted to show Mary as the Mother of God, Mother of the Lord and Redeemer. Therefore, she carries “mandylion” medallion, with great tenderness and love, in her hands. There is a figure of Christ the Savior on the medallion and it reveals the relationship of Mary and incarnated Word of God. The word of God became a man, a Person in Mary. Elizabeth is opening her arms as a sign of a welcome and she wants to embrace Mary as well as the Savior and God. Above Elizabeth, there is an image of her child, John the Baptist, 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 in his hand, a symbol of what his mission will be –baptism. Mary comes as the Mother of God and brings Christ the Savior in her womb, and Elizabeth receives her as the mother of the one who will first point out the Savior, at baptism in the river Jordan. Elizabeth is the first person in the Gospel who recognizes Mary as Mother of the Savior and God, which is quite understandable, because she is carrying the one who will prepare the way for the very Savior. Therefore, in the encounter of two pregnant women, Christ and the Baptist are those who actually meet.
The Encounter of Man and God
Through the mosaic of this encounter between two God’s servants, it becomes clear that it is important, during encounters, for us to find a way to inner person in each other. The same applies to city Belgrade as the city of encounters. The Holy Spirit in us yearns that we encounter Christ and each other as well. In this way, the encounter will become realization of that unimaginable longing that Christ the Lord awakens in us when He wants to meet with our innermost being.
A distinctive golden color contributes to decorativeness of the mosaic. The artist’s wish was to awaken feeling of harmony and beauty in the viewers, that feeling in the heart which helps us discover in-depth content of message hidden in the mosaic. Stones of different colors and shapes intertwine freely in that part of mosaic that extends around main characters. In addition to gold, mosaic is dominated by blue and red, human and divine, and they are intertwined somewhere behind Mary and Elizabeth.
Angel in the chapel – God’s messenger
At the door, when we are leaving the chapel, an angel with a parchment in his hand bids us farewell from sacred space. The angel is touching the ceiling with his wings, and his feet are on the chapel’s floor. With his appearance, the angel reminds us of the Jacob’s ladder which connect heaven and earth. Golden and white reflect on him. There are words of blessing on the parchment: May the Lord bless you and guard you. May the Lord’s face enlighten you, bestow favor on you and lavish piece on you!
We leave the chapel, where everything encourages us to be recollected internally after meeting God in Holy Communion, as people lit by the presence of God Himself. In everyday life we are obliged to do work that will show others that we have really met the Lord. That is why, as we come out of the chapel, the Angel endows God’s blessing on us so that it may accompany us at every step we take. We go out in the world as the ones being blessed, which in a way means – sent from God.
The Word of God
Large parchment, which almost covers the angel, says that our essence is the Word of God, since we were called to life by the very word, and we should model our life and our personal development according to it. The more we do it, the more we will be like Christ the Lord in our everyday, earthly life.