Tag: Byzantine

Byzantine Lozenge

P1740237 (5)A “Byzantine lozenge” sounds like a curious cough drop of doubtful medicinal value. Logos, in modern times, generally refer to corporate emblems. But in St. Francis de Sales Church, the terms lozenge and Logos have different meanings, related to the geometric patterns that you see on the crucifix and baldachin, around the tabernacle, on the steps to the original altar, in the border of the sanctuary floor, in windows, and elsewhere – all based on the Byzantine art and symbolism (from the Greek-speaking part of the Eastern Roman Empire 500 to 1450 AD)  that inspired its church decorations back in 1911.

First, what is a lozenge? In art, it’s a fancy word for a diamond shape or a tilted square. Art historians debate its significance. A typical source notes that “…its exact meaning is unclear, but its four corners may be an allusion to the classical concept of the tetragonus mundus (four square world) and its four elements earth, fire, water and air, four seasons etc., or the universe (created on the fourth day according to the Christian Bible, Genesis 1:14-19).” A symbol dictionary suggests that a diamond shape – “the perfection of crystal” — represents “absolute purity and spirituality…In the Renaissance…it was a symbol of courage and strength of character…”

More relevant, are scholarly sources stating “We know that the lozenge was a Christian symbol in early times. It is found on early Christian lamps, perhaps denoting The Light of the World, and is often interchangeable with the cross in Byzantine work.” Now we’re getting somewhere. The diamond symbol represented a cross in Byzantine art (imagine perpendicular lines drawn through the middle). Christ was crucified on a cross, and based on where the shape appears (often adorning specific manuscript pages), “…it can be deduced with confidence that the lozenge stands for the second person of the Trinity, the Logos.

What is the Logos? The Greek word, meaning “Word” or “Reason,”is a name or title of Jesus Christ, derived from the prologue to the Gospel of John ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’” So, in Byzantine tradition, the diamond shape specifically represents the idea that Jesus on the Cross is the Word of God Made Flesh — and the geometric figure is one more contribution to the “field guide to crosses” in our church. The pattern becomes particularly significant, since it appears so many times in our sanctuary!

The symbol has a special association with Saint John the Evangelist, who wrote the book of the Gospel that starts “In the beginning was the Word…” So, Saint John the Evangelist, who is already present in so many places in our church (at the foot of the cross; in the Last Supper; in the Evangelist medallions at the base of the dome; among the Apostle insignias; in two of the round windows and several of the long ones; and as the Eagle bookrest in the high pulpit), is here referenced in one more form.

It all makes sense, if you think about it, that our church should be filled with book-related motifs and different crosses, since one of the many works of our Patron Saint, who is one of the Doctors of the Church, is a book about devotion to the Cross! The literary association is a happy coincidence for a parish neighborhood that, through the years, has grown up close to so many educational institutions.


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Color OUR Collections! From February 3 to 7, 2020, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world are sharing free coloring sheets and books online based on materials in their collections. Last year, our SFDS parish history archives contributed a selection of stained-glass windows and other church details to color; this year, we feature 1920s parish bulletin advertising art to click and print. Check out all the offerings – from SFDS to Drexel University to the Vatican Libraries and beyond — at ColorOurCollections.org


Byzantine Revival

Is our church modeled after Hagia Sophia, an ancient church-turned-mosque-turned-museum in Turkey?

The claim has been repeated a number of times in recent years, but a look at the two buildings, side by side, does not show an extraordinary resemblance.

When Architect Henry Dagit wrote about our church under construction in 1908, he described his building as “Romanesque with Byzantine details.” That was also its representation in newspaper reports about the new church; in the 1911 Dedication booklet; and in the 1911 Short History of St. Francis de Sales Church. Reverend (later Bishop) Crane, who commissioned our church, envisioned a building “in which the soul would be lifted up to exaltation; an edifice in which the liturgy would be carried out in all its mystical beauty; a church rich with storied windows...” with no mention of Istanbul or Constantinople.

Art historian Richard Stemp provides a clue to the mystery, when he discusses the fifth century innovation of Hagia Sophia: “so great was the impact of a central dome that almost all Eastern churches were modeled on it thereafter.” Hagia Sophia provided an early and famous example of a Byzantine dome — although Stemp reports that “the surviving works at Ravenna (5th and 6th century Italy) have become, by default, the best representations of the splendour of the Byzantine court.”

Byzantine influence spread from Constantinople across the Mediterranean. Architectural historian Roger Moss, writing about Historic Sacred Places of Philadelphia,  suggests that our church actually  traces “its architectural genealogy to medieval Byzantine-Romanesque churches of Southern France.” He notes that French architects in the late 1800s looked back at those earlier churches and “embraced the Byzantine-Romanesque style as an alternative to the Gothic style” which was considered too “Protestant.” Romanesque design featured a rectangular building with rounded arches and vaults, rather than Gothic pointed arches and steeples. The Byzantine-style dome completed the thought.

Our 1911 church, honoring a French saint,  was probably inspired by that late 19th century European architectural movement, but Moss notes that our building is “more than a rare example of the Byzantine Revival style in Philadelphia. It is also one of our three landmark examples of Guastavino tile construction” with distinctive domes and vaults built using interlocking layers of terracotta tiles (The Penn Museum and Girard Bank — Ritz Carlton Hotel are the other two local examples). Rafael Guastavino’s works are prized: Structural Engineer and Guastavino authority John Ochsendorf at MIT opines that the tile domes form “some of the most exceptional masonry structures in history.”