Thessaloniki, Hagia Sophia, dome mosaic

Era 9AD
Location Agias Sofias, Thessaloniki 546 22, Greece

The dome mosaic of Hagia Sophia, Thessaloniki, shows the Ascension. Against a gold background, a full-length Christ, seated on a rainbow, is held aloft in a mandorla by two angels. Below him stands the Mother of God, her hands held out in prayer, flanked by two more angels. Above their heads is the text of the angel’s words at the Ascension, taken from Acts of the Apostles. Around them the twelve apostles are assembled in poses of awe and wonder. The differentiation of the figures, the sense of movement associated with the image and the correct scaling of the figures – from close to, they seem over-long, but from the floor of the church, they work well – highlight the technical skills of the mosaicists. Gorgeous stylised trees and a rocky landscape with a strong resemblance to millefiori glass (or boiled sweets) complete the image. There is a plant and fruit scroll relief and two inscriptions with a date or part of a date. Debate has raged over whether or not the date is complete and unhelpfully, it is possible to reconstruct it as a ninth-century or an eleventh-century one. One widely accepted reconstruction of the date makes it fall in 885, when the archbishop of Thessaloniki was Paul, a friend of the Patriarch Photios in Constantinople, the suggestion being that he would make a plausible patron for the church and the mosaic. But what it replaced in the dome and why is simply not known. Perhaps what we see is an individual church adopting imagery to suit its needs and wishes. Certainly small details within the scene, such as the presence of St Andrew as second to St Paul, rather than Peter as first-ranked, may be the result of local choice, Paul being the Apostle to Thessaloniki and Andrew, the first-called, believed to have been the apostle who founded the Eastern Church.


The world's horriblest chandelier hangs down below the dome, making it hard to see and photograph.

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