The image above is of the interior of a dome at the 9th-century St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. The mosaic of gold, bronze and other precious materials dates from the 12th century and depicts the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost.
The mosaic shows what can be achieved by using the architecture of the church building to depict Orthodox iconography without losing any of the teaching contained in the more traditional depictions.
As it is in three-dimensions, the dome recreates the “upper chamber” where the Apostles received the Holy Spirit; therefore, the Holy Spirit is shown at the centre of the dome, seated upon the Throne of Preparation, with rays shooting out radially to the twelve Apostles who are seated around the edge of the dome. In traditional “two-dimensional” icons, Ss Peter and Paul appear in the centre of the icon, as the chief-Apostles. On the San Marco dome they are shown on the eastern side of the dome, so they are still a focal point for worshipers who will naturally be facing East, towards the altar, when in church.
An important aspect of the Pentecost icon is that is shows a personification of Kosmos – the universe – under the feet of the Apostles signifying that through the descent of the Holy Spirit all people can receive the wisdom of God given to Christ’s disciples. In St. Mark’s, the symmetry of the dome is maintained by replacing Kosmos with representations of various peoples of the world all around the base of the structure, among the windows. The Latin names of the peoples are clearly visible in the inscriptions: Romans, Judeans, Libyans, Egyptians, Frisians, Mesopotamians, Maedans and so on.
Transposed onto a church dome, the icon of Pentecost appears to become more focused upon the Holy Spirit, with Him being at the centre and above all other things.
When the most High came down and confused the tongues,
He divided the nations;
But when he distributed the tongues of fire
He called all to unity.
Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-holy Spirit!
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