Tag: geometry

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