One of the largest mosaics of its kind in Europe has been unveiled at Knock Shrine in Co. Mayo.
Most Rev Michael Neary D.D., Archbishop of Tuam, officially unveiled the huge and impressive artwork, composed of more than 1.5 million individual pieces of mosaic, during the 12 noon Mass in Our Lady’s Basilica on Sunday, February 28.
The mosaic is part of a major, two-year refurbishment of Knock Basilica and an overall renewal project at Ireland’s National Marian Shrine, called ‘Witness to Hope’.
At the unveiling, 15 local people, some of them descendants of those who witnessed the Apparition in 1879, performed a short candlelit procession to commemorate the extraordinary events in Knock 137 years ago.
Those events still draw over one million pilgrims from Ireland and abroad to Ireland’s Marian shrine each year.
Speaking at the ceremony, Archbishop Michael Neary described the artwork as “beautiful and awe-inspiring”.
“It is difficult to find a language which would capture the beauty and magnificence of what we behold and yet isn’t it just a shadow of the reality which those 15 people looked upon on that August evening at the gable end a few yards away,” said the Archbishop.
“All pilgrims as so appreciative of the way in which this basilica has been beautified and absolutely transformed in the past eighteen months,” continued Archbishop Neary.
“So many people at home and abroad have generously contributed and made it possible.
“May this beautifully restored Basilica continue to be a beacon of light and hope for all pilgrims for years to come. May pilgrims who look upon this mosaic with the eyes of faith be drawn ever closer to a welcoming and merciful Lord and a loving Mother.”
Fr Richard Gibbons, PP, Rector of Knock Shrine, said the mosaic is a “very special piece of art”.
“It adds to the whole prayerfulness of the space in the Basilica because it is something that describes and depicts, in great detail, a truly unique and supernatural event here in Knock on August 21, 1879.”
“We believe this mosaic will become a part of the religious art patrimony of the country and it is the centrepiece of the extensive refurbishment of the Basilica and renewal project at Knock Shrine,” said Fr Richard.
Christopher Gogarty, project manager of the refurbishment of Knock Basilica, Seamus Monahan & Partners, said the mosaic is made “predominantly from Venetian glass smalti and there are approximately 1.5 million individual pieces of mosaic in the complete work”.
“The mosaic measures 14mx14m and is one of the largest single flat pieces of religious mosaic of its kind in Europe, if not the world,” he outlined.
PJ Lynch, artist and illustrator of the mosaic, said he “tried hard to capture the sense of the wonder that they (witnesses) must have felt on that wet August evening back in 1879.
“It was a tough but hugely rewarding project, and it is truly humbling for me to think of all of the thousands of pilgrims who will see the mosaic, over many years to come,” said Mr Lynch.
Fabrizio Travisanutto, of Travisanutto Mosaics, was also in Knock for the ceremony.
“We had up to 16 people working on this project in Spilimbergo at one time and these are amongst the most skilled mosaic artisans in the world,” he explained.
“We have created mosaics all over the world for 30 years but this was our first in Ireland and certainly the biggest single, one-unit piece we have made in Europe.”
“From the very beginning, I was amazed at the artwork because it doesn’t happen very often that we get to work with such a beautiful drawing. I knew it was going to be a beautiful mosaic.
“This was a special project and I’m very grateful to have been involved.”
The mosaic is inlaid on the wall behind the sanctuary in the Basilica, close to the spot where St John Paul II celebrated Mass in 1979.