‘The Kingdom of Mosaic Waters’ at the Techirghiol Monastery

Daniela Șontic – Translated by Anca Costenco (OCP Delegate of Bucarest and All Romania – OCP Articles – 29/11/2020

Read the Original article in Romanian on the portal of Lumina News Paper of the Romanian Orthodox Church

A beautiful and unique merging of sacred art and the surrounding space of a church can be admired at the Monastery of “Saint Mary” (Techirghiol, Romania), a Patriarchal Stavropegic monastery where, adjacent to the new church, a separate enclosure has been created with access ramps that have mosaic decorated walls. We invite you to enjoy this space through images and thoughts expressed by Anca and AlexandruCostenco, the creators of this charming “mosaic garden”.

In the courtyard of the Techirghiol Monastery, close to the realm of natural waters, you are at the same time in a kingdom of Biblical waters. Entering the gates from the lakeside, you are carried by the mosaic scenes through the history of the Old and New Testaments, from the moment the Spirit of God was “hovering over the surface of the water” to the Baptism of the Lord, the wonderful healing at the Pool of Bethesda, and other moments when water-related miracles were performed.

The idea belongs to His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel, who wanted the mosaics to refer to the nearby water –Techirghiol Lake and the Black Sea – and to the theological meanings of water in the divine work. In addition, having inclined planes in this area, the access ramps had walls which seemed to require this type of adorning. Of all the mosaic artists, the Costencos were chosen to create in our country this unique monumental work of art. A little surprised at first by the proposal made to them and a little concerned about the size of the space to be covered with mosaic, the young couple gathered the courage and set out on the mission that matured them as artists and people, as they now confess.

Anca remembers how the abbess’s brother, Father Gabriel Roşu, noticed them on the internet after finding a mosaic icon from a Canadian exhibition: “By then, we’ve made a mosaic for the facade of a church in Ottawa, the church where we had also sent some mosaic icons. However, we participated in an exhibition in Montreal with an icon of the Saviour, and Father Gabriel Roşu saw the icon and searched for our contact details “.

The artists worked almost three years for Techirghiol, without having anyone else in their team. Alex recalls: “We started with the scene of the Baptism of the Lord because it was familiar to us, with representations in mosaic art. The abbess gave us a lot of confidence, she always said that she likes our work and this is how the project took off and how we have built the confidence to elaborate the compositions “.

50 Nuances of Natural Stone
Alex Costenco is, among other things, in charge of the technical aspects of the projects. He explains the process of work for theTechirghiol project: “I transposed the sketch of each scene digitally and created image simulations to have a better idea of what it would look like in its final stage. We’ve printed the image, then we glued pieces of stone to the 1: 1 scale drawing, the image of the scene being reversed, and after that we mounted the mosaics on the wall. This is the indirect method. That’s the only way we can obtain high-quality mosaics. We glue the tesserae on paper support, then we apply adhesive over the mosaic and on the wall. After we apply the mosaic on the wall, we takeout the paper. You can also apply the tesserae directly on the wall, but the weather conditions in Techirghiolare particular and it would be difficult to finish the work in a good time frame. In this region, you can have weather extremes with strong wind or bright sun and a lot of moisture in the air, so all this would have slowed us down “.

He also offers details about the materials: “We used natural stone to be in line with the Dobrogea stone used for the exterior design of the new church. The mosaic tiles we used are imported from Italy and come from marble, travertine quarries and other types of stone, having at our disposal around 50 colours. The colours are all-natural, vibrant and the shades have offered us many possibilities for combinations “.

Anca remembers how challenging the experience was: “Some scenes from the Old Testament required particular attention because they are not too often depicted in our country. We had to look for solutions, improvise, think about and adapt to the site, to the architecture and colour of the church and to the fact that there is not much vegetation in this space. Even His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel communicated with us through the abbess and told us to bring elements from nature into the scenes. It can be seen, for example, that we inserted trees and landscapes in the Jordan Valley representation next to the scene with Saint John Baptising in the River Jordan, which do not exist in other icons. The selected themes are beautiful. The Patriarch also suggested the inclusion of elements and motifs from the Romanian traditional clothing into the narrow friezes. Now we can’t believe we created such a large project, there are 11 scenes developed on almost 200 square meters! ”

The artists also introduced, in the decorative areas, elements of Christian symbolism such as the fish, at the request of the abbess. The background is light in colour, harmonizing with the white of the church and the Dobrogea stone used to decorate the lower part of the buildings.

The authors are very delighted that their work is admired and the pilgrims spend good time deciphering the scenes and taking pictures with the mosaics. Sometimes the artists are told that their mosaics have some resemblance with the famous mosaics from Ravenna or Monreale, which is a great compliment.

However, in 2018, at the consecration of the church, when the Patriarch of Romania awarded them a diploma and medal, appreciating their work, they were surprised. “It was a privilege and a pleasant experience, I learned many good things from the nuns and all the people I interacted with”, the artist confesses. But another good thing happened to Anca Costenco: she received her authorisation as a mosaic artist with the scene of the Baptism of the Lord from the monumental ensemble inTechirghiol.

How they started creating mosaics
Different paths brought them to the art of mosaics. Anca studied art in high school, and after choosing to study at the Faculty of Philosophy, she abandoned it and went back to fine arts in the Sacred Art program of the Faculty of Orthodox Theology in Bucharest. She specialized in mosaic art with her master’s degree. Anca participated in the painting of the “Saint Nicholas” Church in Beirut, Lebanon, the site being led by Professor GeorgiosKordis. She met Alexandru in the mosaic studio he’s been managing for years and she understood that this was her path in art and, by marrying him, also in life.

Instead, Alexandru completed his master’s degree in Tourism Management. Since 2008 he has been creating “tourist attractions”, as he likes to joke. He collaborated in the creation of mosaics for the Patriarchy Hill complex in Bucharest and for other churches.

The monumental ensemble in Techirghiol gave the Costenco couple the chance to create a large body of work and they are satisfied with the fact that they were able to control the small details, so important in a situation where the viewer can get very close and look at each piece separately. “We tried to create a mosaic garden there,” says Alex, and Anca is convinced that the garden made of small coloured stones glued to the wall also has the role of inviting visitors to enter the church.

Anca and Alexandru Costenco would like to have the opportunity, in the future, to create the iconographic program for a chapel or small church in order to further develop their artistic and technical abilities in creating mosaics.

From the History of the New Church of the Monastery
The cornerstone of the “Saint Mary” Church in the Techirghiol complex, a Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery, was laid on October 18, 2000, by the worthy Patriarch Teoctist Arăpaşu, during the office of the abbess Stavrophore Semfora Gafton. Construction work began in 2003 and was completed in 2009.

On November 21, 2009, His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel consecrated the chapel in the basement of the church, placed under the patronage of the Holy Great-Martyr and Healer Panteleimon and the Holy Prophet Moses. Inside the new church, the paintings were executed in the 2013-2016 intervals, byzantine fresco technique, the team is led by painter Adrian Botea. In addition to the main patronage of “The Dormition of the Theotokos” were added as spiritual patrons the Holy Venerable Theoktistos and Holy Venerable Daniel the Hermit, protectors of the two patriarchs who founded this holy place. The architecture of the church is in the Byzantine style,  author being VoicuFlorea.

The current abbess of the monastery is the Stavrophore Lucia Roşu. The new church was consecrated December 9, 2018, 100 years after the Great Union and 90 years after the establishment of the patriarchal stavropegic monastery in Teghirghiol by the first Patriarch of Romania, MironCristea.

Anca Costencois the Delegate of Bucharest and All Romania of the Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE  (Pan-Orthodox Christian Society)

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