February 3, 2014
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

A mosaic, inspired by the book of Revelation and giving glory to Christ's Eucharistic presence, has recently taken its place behind the tabernacle at St. Joseph's Basilica.

Designed and built by a religious artist in New Zealand, the mosaic, which cost $80,000 in total, shows the Lamb standing triumphantly holding the cross.

Visually all attention is immediately centered on the Lamb who is coloured in white and red. The Lamb's holding of the cross is a triumphant sign of Christ's victory over death.

"The Lamb is standing but it is wounded. There is blood pouring from its side into a Eucharistic chalice," explained Father Miguel Irizar, associate pastor at the downtown basilica.

Father Adam Lech, the previous basilica rector, had searched without success through Europe and North America for a religious artist to craft an appropriate mosaic.

NEW ZEALAND CONNECTION

Then, Irizar made a connection with Michael Pervan, a religious artist from St. John the Baptist Studio in New Zealand. The artist's work looked promising.

Once Irizar got the thumbs-up from Archbishop Richard Smith, the project proceeded. Pervan took about nine months to complete the mosaic.

"We brought in the artist before he was even commissioned, and we were very clear that the mosaic must blend in with the rest of the basilica. We want people to see that this fits here perfectly, imitating the same types of shapes and wood," said Irizar.

Atop in a gilded arch are the Latin words, "Ecce Agnus Dei, qui tollit peccata mundi," which translates as "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world."

"Underneath the Lamb you have a scroll with seven seals. The seals are not open, so again it invokes Revelations that no one is able to break open the seals except the Lamb," explained Irizar.

Just inside the lower lip of the central mandorla (the almond shape, often used to visually depict glory emanating from Christ) are 24 crowns.

"The crowns are small to symbolize our smallness before the Lord. The number 24 represents the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles. There is this continuity between the Old and the New Testament," said Irizar.

FOUR EVANGELISTS

The lower point depicts the four beings grouped in worship around the throne, in this instance around the dwelling place of Jesus. The four living creatures represent the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These four evangelists carry Jesus to the Christian people.

The evangelist with the face of a man is St. Matthew; the lion stands for St. Mark; the ox symbolizes St. Luke's Gospel; the eagle represents St. John.

"All of their eyes are gazing towards the tabernacle, so they are directing our attention to our Lord and the Eucharist. This is what we want to emphasize: that we encounter the Lord through the Gospels, which are given to us by the evangelists," said Irizar.

In the lower part of the mosaic, light emanates forth, its golden glow meeting with the rich and varied transcendent blue of the figures. Above them is written the first line of their unceasing song, which reads in Latin, "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus," meaning "Holy, Holy, Holy."

FOCUS ON THE LAMB

Irizar explained that the guiding shape of the piece has been drawn from arches found throughout the basilica. It has been shaped to give immediate focus to the Lamb at first glance, and also to the tabernacle.

A challenge they faced was bringing the large mosaic from New Zealand. The mosaic was divided into four parts for shipping, first to Vancouver, then to Edmonton.

When it arrived Nov. 11, local workers were hired to help the artist temporarily remove the tabernacle and install the mosaic. It was ready for the Christmas Mass.

Irizar said parishioners were generous in contributing $80,000 needed for the project. He has since received a few letters of appreciation from people who appreciate the beauty of the mosaic.