by Mary Jane Miller of sanmiguelicons.com
Magnificent Domes and Sacred Space
Modern scholars such as Joseph Campbell have argued that religion is derived from the word religare: re (again) + ligare (bind or connect), which means to reconnect.
When standing reverently beneath a vaulted sacred space my chest elevates, pulling me to a higher realm. My whole self is being called to go beyond what binds me to Earth. I am invited to inebriate my heart in something greater than myself. I am an artist immersed in the discipline of contemporary iconography, and the practice is a perfect metaphor for being pulled up towards the light.
Icon Writing is the process of visually implementing the spirit through painting. Sacred Space has always existed.
Here is a splendid picture of a magnificent dome in a church that has begun a renovation. Christ is at the center, not Jesus the man, but the Christ energy that provokes us into being. That energy inspires our love for creation and one another. The vaults referred to in Genesis were separated into the heavens and earth. Have you ever heard a priest say when referencing Jesus the Christ, “There never was a time when Christ wasn’t”? The dome is like that, it represents a sacred space that has always existed. We only need to direct our gaze above.
Sit in Church and Look up
Here in Mexico there are some magnificent domes. Christ the Pantocrator may not be painted with arms extended, however, it is the light that is emitted in all domes that commands the heart. Windows that capture light in a spherical space are reminiscent of our Earth. Sacred space pull our spirit up to grab our attention and unite us with the high dimensions. I can imagine I am being received, initiated, heard, and noticed as I sit there in the light that connects my heart to the heavens.
It is an ingenious concept that the early architects came up with. Light-filled windows, in an arching vault represents a higher dimension. The magnificent cathedral domes in churches encapsulate sacred space above the liturgical table. The icon writing space stimulates the human mind to contemplate space without limit. An illuminated church vault of color and shape lures the mind to expand into a world of wonder and awe.
Inebriate My Heart
Why do we find it so hard to believe we are blessed? In the Byzantine churches, ancient Byzantine icons of Mary or Jesus embrace us from a dome above the altar. Their blessings come from above. To be blessed is to trust that we are not alone. Everything will unfold in time and space because of an ever-present God (energy) that is greater than us. To allow spirit to inebriate your heart, and believe you are already blessed, is a powerful feeling.
Divine precious energy is what sustains us. It is prudent to believe and be grateful for our miraculous existence in this life. The icon image of Christ in a domed space lifts us, enticing the mind to a higher realm of potential and unlimited possibilities. I particularly like this last image with the broken parts of an ancient image, falling away to reveal a suggestion of our hearth. "So Above, so Below."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Mary Jane Miller is a self-taught Byzantine style iconographer with over 28 years of experience in icon writing. Her collection of sacred art icon writing is contemporary, unique, and unorthodox at times. The work has been exhibited in museums and churches in both the United States and Mexico. She teaches 4 courses annually, 5 day immersion workshops throughout the US and Mexico. Connect with her online
Books for Purchase
Modern Catholic Iconography