Los Angeles Times | Nov. 2, 2020

by Paul Duginski

The new mosaic at St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine depicts the Last Judgment, in which Jesus, surrounded by angels, separates the righteous from the damned. The Last Judgment is a central concept in the Orthodox faith.

Installed within the 36-foot-diameter dome, 60 feet above the floor, the mosaic, installed in time for the “Music for the End of Time” concerts this weekend, shows Jesus and below him, the 12 apostles, the four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and Old Testament prophets.

The mosaic was designed by Italian artist Sirio Tonelli, who has created Byzantine mosaics for more than 100 churches and cathedrals in the United States, including St. Nicholas’ Greek Orthodox Church in Northridge and the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York City.

The Irvine project took about 2 1/2 years to complete, from initial designs to finished installation. Tonelli estimates he used several million pieces of specially forged Italian colored glass to create the mosaic, which covers about 2,700 square feet. Many of the glass tiles are then hand-painted with gold leaf. One square yard weighs nearly 6 1/2 pounds.

Tonelli also designed the 1,200-square-foot mosaic of Mary and a young Jesus above the altar and the external mosaic of St. Paul, the church’s patron saint. The mosaic was designed to meet earthquake standards.

In Italy

1. The project began 2 1/2 years ago. After Tonelli spent 6 months designing and preparing the mosaic in his studio, Father Steven Tsichlis of St. Paul’s church went to Florence in August. There he and the artist agreed on the final design.

2. The mosaic, which was assembled in reverse on adhesive paper using millions of pieces of forged glass, was cut into numbered sections of varying size and shipped in 10 crates to the port of San Pedro.

In Irvine

3. Italian artisans from Tonelli’s workshop begin in the apex of the dome, applying adhesive and bonding numbered sections of the mosaic to the interior dome surface. The sections are placed with the adhesive paper side facing out.

4. After each section is tapped and adjusted into place, it is allowed to dry.

5. In a couple of days, the adhesive paper is peeled off and the mosaic is rinsed with muriatic acid.

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