My recent holiday took me to Greece, where I toured Byzantine sites, seeing the sources of the art and architecture of our Cathedral, as well as gleaning a few ideas!
Thessalonika (or, in modern Greek Thessaloniki) is Greece's second largest city, but unlike Athens has enjoyed an unbroken history as a major city. After its capture by the Turks in 1430, it remained a largely Greek city until the arrival of the Jews expelled from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella.
Its Byzantine remains are second only to those in Constantinople itself, and the mosaics and frescoes of its Churches, although they have suffered the ravages of time, represent some of the highest artistic treasures of the Eastern Roman Empire.
In the 7th century basilica of Haghios Demetrios, patron saint of the city, are to be found some of the most beautiful mosaics I have seen, softening ikonic formality with a personal intensity. This is what mosaic work is all about. Above is the figure of St Sergios. The mosaic of St Demetrios with two children (below) may well have been presented by the parents of the children depicted, following a cure or a favour granted by the saint.
The face of the saint is portrayed with an intense and sensitive expression of prayer, and serene repose.
Below, St Demetrios is shown with a cleric. An inscription translates: "Blessed martyr of Christ, care for the city you love, her citizens and guests."
The nineteenth century Cathedral of St Gregory Palamas gives a breathtaking vision of a complete decorative scheme.
Finally, in the apse is the eighth century figure of the Virgin, representing humanity redeemed through the sacrifice of Christ, celebrated in the Mass. This was a theme present in the apse of every Church I visited, and one we intend to copy in the apse of Westminster Cathedral.