The Altar and The Portico (I)

EPSON DSC pictureaidan28


Aidan Hart: Embracing a Eucharistic Lifestyle

Liturgical “vs.” Secular Beauty in Life And Art


Excerpts (I) from a masterpiece of a talk, given by the renowned iconographer Aidan Hart at Sacred And Secular In Life And Art seminar in Oxford University,  a workshop dedicated to the memory of Philip Sherrard. (Oxford, 14-17 July, 2016).

Analysis of Works of Liturgical and Secular Art — Beauty seen in the light of Orthodoxy’s ‘aesthetics’. Liturgical art exists to help us live our whole lives liturgically. Vignettes from house architecture and decoration, furniture design, hospitality, music etc. to express love for God’s creation in daily life and to live life gently upon His earth, aiming towards a Eucharistic vision of Life: wholeness, harmony, unity.  Culture as the Liturgy of Preparation “Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” (Ode on a Grecian Urn, By John Keats). Indeed, Beauty will save the world (Dostoyevski). Needless to point out, both this Eucharistic vision of Life and the importance of Beauty/Truth in Art and Life have been central concerns of this little city hermit’s blog and his journey on the Way.


… In my reflections I would like to regard the term secular not in its pejorative sense, as the bad world outside the Church, but rather in its earlier sense as the larger world in whose midst the Church is planted to transfigure that world.

In considering our subject of sacred and secular we may have the image of a splendid garden city expanding into a wild jungle, rather than a fortress sealed off against siege from the world. This city does indeed have walls to keep bad things out, but it also has gates, and from its heart flows a River that brings life wherever it flows, as the prophet Ezekiel tells us in his vision (Ezekiel 47).


Eden within the forest

St Cadmon’s hymn of creation. Aidan Hart, calligraphy Clive Tolley.. Vellum.aidan1.jpg

God creating Adam. Palermo, Sicily. 12th C. Mosaic.aidan2.jpg

God creating Adam. Palermo, Sicily. 12th C. Mosaic.

The sacred as source

The Tent of Meeting.aidan3.jpg

The Tent of Meeting.

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has said that one is Priest (Christ);

some are priests (the clergy); all are priests (the priesthood of the laity).

Philip and Denise Sherrard’s Chapel of the Life Giving Spring, Evia, Greece. Aidan Hart. Fresco.aidan10.jpgaidan9.jpgLion, below fresco of St Mary of Egypt. Chapel of the Life Giving Spring, Evia, Greece. Aidan Hart. Frescoaidan8.jpg

Hare, below icon of St Melangell of Wales. Chapel of the Life Giving Spring, Evia, Greece. Aidan Hart. Fresco.



Chapel of the Life Giving Spring, Evia, Greece. Aidan Hart. Frescoaidan5.jpg



…And so it is that I believe liturgical art exists to help us live our whole lives liturgically. A church temple, as St Maximus the Confessor affirmed, is an image of the whole world. This splendid earth was created by God to be our temple within which to worship Him.



… I experienced this “coming together” of heaven and earth personally when I was frescoing Denise Sherrard’s chapel at her home in Evia, the chapel of the Life Giving Spring that she and Philip had built. We wanted to reflect Philip’s affirmation that the material world is an integral part of the spiritual life,[2] so I painted a tree between each standing saint. Some of the saints are also accompanied by a creature associated with their lives: St Melangell with a hare; St Mary of Egypt with the lion which dug her grave; bees with St John the Baptist who ate honey while in the wilderness, and so on.


I modelled the frescoed trees on the trees that grew outside the chapel. As I worked many hours each day in the chapel the awareness grew that the world is indeed created to be a temple, designed to inspire us to praise and love its Creator. The vision of paradisiacal trees that began inside that small chapel’s walls continued when I continued my life outside. The sacred transformed the secular, paradise extended into the ‘jungle’.


… Importantly, this sense of continuum was supported by Denise’s attempt to express love for God’s creation in her daily life and to live life gently upon His earth. The food we ate was prepared with love, much of it grown in Denise’s own garden. Even the wine was homemade.  The chapel itself had been made of local stone.

Immersion in the paradise of church worship affects the way we design our day-to-day lives outside the services. The architecture of our houses, our furniture design, our hospitality, our music – all aspects of life – can take their inspiration from the Liturgy. The Liturgy is like our tuning fork, helping to keep our daily lives in harmony with heaven’s.


Heaven’s music

… Having this inner music we will create a culture that will not only function well but will delight the eye and bring forth the logos or character of each raw material.

…In fact, in these and in the carved wooden columns outside one can see the inspiration for the sculptures fashioned by the father of modern abstract sculpture, Constantine Brancusi.

…This relates to what St Maximus the Confessor wrote some fourteen centuries earlier:

Do not stop short of the outward appearance which visible things present to the senses but seek with your intellect to contemplate their inner essences (logoi), seeing them as images of spiritual realities…

… Once when his friend Petre Pandrea was praising his sculpture, Brancusi replied that all he had done was to set up a branch office of Tismana Orthodox Monastery in Paris.  He saw his sculptures as an extension of the worship and ascetical life of that monastery. The sacred informed the secular.


Rumanian grave posts, 10th c.


‘Endless Columns’, in Brancusi’s studio, Paris.


Tismana Orthodox Monastery, Rumania.


Culture as the Liturgy of Preparation

As we shall explore a little later, this transformative process also works the other way: the art of life lived outside the temple walls should act as a portico, preparing us for entrance to the inner sanctum.

Our daily life can be an extended beginning to the first part of the Holy Liturgy, the Service of Preparation.


The New Jerusalem, on vellum, by Aidan Hart


… Every aspect of our daily living can be seen as this same transformative process, culminating in the Holy Liturgy’s deification of the bread and wine. This is suggested by the etymology of the word culture, which stems from the Latin word colere, which means to inhabit, care for, till, worship. Culture then becomes cult, an act of worship. Culture is both tilling and working and worship.

Any failings in our modern culture are ultimately due to our failure to continue work into worship, to carry the cultivation of the land into the cult of the liturgy.


Sant’Apollinare in Classe apse (c. 534 AD). The Transfiguration; Paradise; the Second Coming; The New Jerusalem; Our Priestly roleaidan20.jpg

Sant’Apollinare in Classe

Creation transfigured. Sant’Apollinare in Classeaidan19.jpgaidan18.jpg

Portico and Nave


In most of our churches today we have a rather rude transition from exterior to interior. But in most early churches it was not so. Most had a portico, a place colonnaded around, roofless yet walled.


… Walking along the busy street you would spy this little paradise courtyard and be drawn towards its coolness and stillness. Once within this portico, through the open doors of the church you would eventually see hints of some glittering mosaics or wall paintings, and pins of light from oil lamps. So you would be drawn further in.



Portico with fountain, St Clement’s, Rome — Portico garden, St Cecilia’s, Rome.


…Once inside this exonarthex you would perhaps see images of the six days of creation, or the prophets, or, as in Iviron monastery,  the Psalms of Lauds illustrated, where all creation is praising God.

Aidan Hart Liturgical Art "vs." Secular Art Beauty as Truth and Truth Beauty

Exo-narthex, Iviron, Athos, with depictions of Psalms 158-150, all creation praising God

You might also see images of the day of judgement, reminding you that repentance and purification is needed to stand the glory of God’s light which can be experienced further inside.


Narthex, with glimpse through to nave St Nicholas Anapafsas, Meteora.

After looking around these scenes you would see yet another door, and enter the narthex, where you would see perhaps frescoes of standing ascetics.

Eventually you would be drawn even further, into the nave. In this broad yet intimate place you find yourself surrounded by angels, saints, scenes in the life of Christ.




…. But this journey began with the portico. Portico or threshold beauty draws us like the fragrance of a rose towards the rose. This threshold art and culture participates both in the hubbub of daily life and in the liturgical life of the Church. Culture should cultivate the soul in preparation for the seed of God’s word. …

Excerpts from Orthodox Arts Journal