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A Paved Work of Sapphire Stone

In the Sinai mosaic, Christ is depicted within an aureole of graduated blue tesserae set in four concentric bands, with the darkest blue at the centre. Eight rays of light extend outwards from His person. The artist has achieved this by using the next higher register of colour within each of the bands, until the light emerges white from the aureole.

The blue tesserae call to mind God’s revelation to Moses and the Seventy Elders of Israel, where it is written,

Καὶ εἶδον τὸν τόπον, οὗ εἱστήκει ὁ Θεὸς τοῦ ᾿Ισραήλ· καὶ τά ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ ὡσεὶ ἔργον πλίνθου σαπφείρου καὶ ὥσπερ εἶδος στερεώματος τοῦ οὐρανοῦ τῇ καθαριότητι. Καὶ τῶν ἐπιλέκτων τοῦ ᾿Ισραὴλ οὐ διεφώνησεν οὐδὲ εἷς· καὶ ὤφθησαν ἐν τῷ τόπῳ τοῦ Θεοῦ καὶ ἔφαγον καὶ ἔπιον.

And they saw the place where the God of Israel stood: and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and as it were the appearance of the firmament of heaven in its clearness. And of the elect of Israel not even one was lost; also they appeared in the dwelling place of God, and did eat and drink. (Exodus 24:10-11 LXX)

Evagrius the Solitary, who lived in the fourth century, has invoked these verses as a spiritual place which all are summoned to enter:

When the mind has put off the old man and clothed itself with grace, then during prayer it will see its own nature like a sapphire or the colour of heaven. In Scripture this is called the dwelling place of God that was seen by the Elders on Mount Sinai.

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