Sacred vision

Church ofHosios Loukas

The monastery church of Hosios Loukas in Phocis, southern Greece, was built in the tenth century to a centralized plan typical of the mid-Byzantine period. The lustrous Pentecost mosaic from this dome adjacent to the apse shows the twelve Apostles seated around its edge, receiving the Holy Spirit. Twelve rays of light, each containing a holy flame, radiate from the dove at the centre. This is a striking image in which the arresting geometry is powerfully conveyed to the observer far below.

The subject matter chosen for Byzantine mosaics depended largely on its iconographical and practical suitability for that space. A crucifix, for example, was rarely placed in a squinch (niche created in the corners where a dome met its four supports) as its shape would be distorted

by the curved surface. The mosaic decoration of this church is typical of the use of church architecture by the eleventh century as a microcosm of the hierarchy of the universe.

Generally Christ the Pantocrator was shown in the central dome, the highest and most important point in the building. The Virgin was shown in the second most prominent position, the apse, whilst an iconography based on feast cycles, evangelists and saints was developed for the areas lower down in the church.

The addition of the Pentecost scene into this hierarchy provides an unusual interval between the images of Christ Pantocrator and the Virgin, reinforcing the importance of the divine Spirit received by those very ordinary men, the Apostles.

Rosie Razzall

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