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Today Christ on Mount Tabor has changed the darkened nature of Adam, and filling it with brightness He has made it godlike.

- A hymn from the feast of Transfiguration  

Nowhere else in liturgical art is this transfiguration of the human person - and indeed of all creation -  more affirmed than in mosaic. The brilliant tesserae made of gold and coloured glass seem to emanate light and not just reflect it. So it was with great joy that I received an invitation from Father James Shadid to make two large mosaics for his St George's Orthodox church in Houston, Texas. The subjects are the Crucifixion and the Descent into Hades, and each will  measure 4.88 x 3.65 metres (16 x 12 feet). After agreeing designs with Father James, Martin and I began work in earnest in March of this year. We hope you enjoy seeing these pictures of some of what we have done so far. 

I have also recently installed a choros, a type of octagonal chandelier, for the Orthodox church of St Amandus in Kortrijk, Belgium. Inspired by my experience of designing the choros, I have written an article on the subject of lighting in churches, which you can view here. In the days of beeswax candles, oil lamps and strategically placed windows it was difficult to get things wrong. Electric lighting, however, is more difficult to manage with sensitivity so it is all the more important to have a clear idea of the atmosphere we are trying to create before it is installed. This article attempts to outline some of these aims.


Panel 5, Saint John and Saint Longinus (partially finished sections, the haloes awaiting completion) one of the fifteen panels from the Crucifixion mosaic (below left).

Watercolour designs for Houston mosaics and, below left, a plan showing where the Aerolam boards will be cut to form the different sections. 

We hope you enjoy seeing these pictures which show a little of what we have done so far. As you will notice, we are making the two mosaics in sections. These will be shipped to Houston, where we will install them and fill in the joins with tesserae to make a seamless whole. 

For those interested to learn more about the technical side of things we have included more information at the end of the newsletter. 

Details from Panel 5, Saint John and the hand of Saint Longinus.

Detail from Panel 1, Moon.

Detail from Panel 2.

Panel 12, Adam's tomb at the foot of the cross. Notice the space left around the edges so that tesserae can be inserted in Houston to completely hide the joins between the sections. Gaps in the tesserae are also left where stainless steel screws will attach the sections to the wall before being covered with tesserae. 


This choros was commissioned for the Orthodox church of St Amandus in Kortrijk, Belgium, and was installed a week ago. It was quite a challenge to design since the parish had a limited budget for what is quite a large work. And so instead of opting for the more traditionally used cast brass, we used mild steel sheet for the sides and cast aluminium for the crosses, and had the Celtic designs cut out by laser. The chains were hand forged by Frazer Picot. Everything was then painted with the durable powder coating system. It measures 3.68 metres (12 feet) from side to side.

The original plan was to have electric candles atop the choros, in imitation of the traditional wax candles. But two parishioners suggested instead a contemporary solution with LED strips concealed within a channel around the base of the side sections. Among other things, this system has produced a more gentle and even lighting for the paintings on the dome than the spotlights used before.  



During the Byzantine era there were only handful of places in the world able to produce glass situated in the Middle East. The mysterious transformation of silica, mineral soda and lime took place under intense heat in gigantic furnaces built for each firing and then demolished. Raw chunks of this prized, transparent substance were transported around the world, as far as Japan even, where they were re-worked in local centres. For the glass tesserae, or 'smalti', used in Byzantine mosaics this raw glass was re-melted and coloured with different metal and oxide additives before being formed into small 'cakes' which were then cut to size. No definite centres of the production of these glass cakes have been identified, but it is probable that some were produced in furnaces on site, near the mosaicists as they worked - like giant alchemical artists' palettes.

We order our tesserae from the Orsoni foundry in Venice and, cutting each one to size as we work, apply them onto panels made from 'Aerolam' - a very light and rigid aluminium centred board used in the aircraft industry. We glue a layer of aggragate onto these panels which gives the mortar something extra to lock into. For simpler areas of mosaic, like gold backgrounds and buildings, we work directly onto the panel, pushing the tesserae into a cement based mortar. For more complex areas, like flesh and garments, where we need an adhesive with a longer open time, we use the 'Ravenna Double Reverse Method' which is described below...

1. We begin by transferring our drawing onto the lime putty using glassine paper and a water soluble felt tip. As well as the main features of the face or garment, we also trace the all important andamento  - the lines of flow that the tesserae will be arranged in that give the mosaic form and movement.

Using lime putty, which has a long open time, as our initial base gives us time to adjust the tesserae as we progress. This is particularly important in a face where every tesserae contributes towards the overall expression.

As lime putty is inherently brittle and our mosaic panels will be handled and moved around, we now begin the process of transferring the mosaic onto a stronger and more flexible cement based mortar. 

4. There is evidence that Byzantine and Medieval mosaicists frescoed the basic forms and colours on onto the lime mortar before laying their tesserae. As well as providing the design this had the added benefit of colouring any mortar that remained visible between the tesserae. We recreate this effect by applying a layer of cement based mortar coloured with natural pigments to the reverse side of the mosaic before reapplying it to board. 

2. After final adjustments have been made, a thin gauze is glued onto the surface of the mosaic with a water soluble pearl glue. 

3. When the glue is set after a day or so we hold our breath and lift the tesserae, which are now hopefully attached to the gauze, away from the surface of the board. Using a pressure washer any remaining lime putty is washed away from the back of the tesserae - revealing the reverse side of the mosaic.

5. Working quickly before the mortar begins to stiffen and set, the mosaic is flipped over and reapplied to the board - which has also had a thin layer of cement based mortar added to it. We wait a couple of weeks to allow the mortar to set completely, then remove the gauze from the surface of the tesserae by pouring on hot water which loosens the pearl glue. Onwards!

Aidan Hart Icons


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