New Mosaics and Mural work at St Michael’s Abbey, California

We've been following, with interest, the developments taking place at St. Michael's Abbey. Almost two years ago we detailed the architecture and today we turn our attention to the newly installed decoration scheme which is comprised of mosaics as well as murals. 

The mosaic that covers the eastern wall of the Abbey church was recently unveiled. Completed after many months of delay due to the pandemic, the main protagonist of the composition is a 16 foot tall image of Our Lady, to whom the church is dedicated, surrounded by a aureole of seraphim. On each side are the archangels Michael, patron of the abbey, and Gabriel, with a half figure of Christ Pantocrator above.

The iconography references passages from the book of revelation, depicting Our Lady as Woman of the Apocalypse: “the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars", and including the Resurrection of the Flesh and Last Judgement on the lower sides of the triumphal arch.

The apse itself is decorate with a crux surrounded by vines and the figures of the patriarchs Aaron and Abel and Saints Dionysius and Justin, while the intrados of the arch holds medallions of the 12 Apostles.

One of the transept chapels, completed earlier last year, is dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The apse wall shows the apparition of our Lady to St Juan Diego, and the Tree of Life with Sts. Norbert and Augustine. The opposite transept chapel, still incomplete, will be dedicated to St John the Baptist.

The mosaics are the work of the Lenarduzzi atelier in Friuli, with preparatory drawings painted by the husband and wife team, Giovanni Raffa and Laura Renzi, who hail from Perugia. This couple are the second generation of the byzantine iconography school that developed in the north of Italy in the late 1950’s. 

Initial concepts for the apse wall decoration were developed by British iconographer Aidan Hart. Raffa and Renzi are also responsible, with the help of Mara Zanette, for the mural paintings that decorate the six side chapels of the Abbey church nave, of which only two are complete to date. One is dedicated to St Joseph, with a depiction of the resurrection of Lazarus on the apse, and the other to our Lady of Mt Carmel, with the annunciation and the prophet Elijah. The ceilings of these chapels are decorated with images referencing the days of creation. 

Pictures by Fr Joseph Horn / St Michael’s Abbey

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