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The Mosaic Floor

Benedicte omnia opera Domini Dominio Laudate et superaltate Eum in saecula Benedicte maria et flumina Domini Dominio Benedicte cete et omnia quae moventur in aqus Domini Dominio Benedicte omnes volucres coeli Domini Dominio Benedicte omnes bestiae et pecora Domini Dominio

All ye works of the lord, bless the Lord Praise and exalt him above all forever O ye seas and rivers, bless the Lord O ye whales and all that move in the waters, bless the Lord O all ye fowls of the air, bless the Lord All ye beasts and cattle, bless the Lord

The floor of the Honan Chapel reflects elements of both pagan and Christian spirituality. The mosaic images contrast with conventional Christian motifs. Although animal imagery is a central aspect of pagan spirituality, the floor expresses Christian beliefs through symbols which have meanings within both traditions. The Latin text calls for all of nature to praise the Lord. And yet, the chapel floor is as much a celebration of Nature as a tribute to its Creator.

At the entrance of the chapel, the floor is decorated with a radiating sun surrounded by the twelve astrological signs. At the base of the aisle is a bull head from which a river full of fish gushes. This river terminates at the end of the aisle, where animals from all over the world drink from the river and eat the plants that the river nourishes. In front of the tabernacle, a vision of paradise is encircled by twelve representatives of the natural world. These twelve images are important symbols both in pagan and Christian spiritual traditions.

Bull Head The River of Life flows from the bull head at the base of the aisle. The bull is the most representative symbol of Natureís masculine principle. It embodies strength and procreative power. In Ireland, the bull is a common metaphor for war. Bulls were sacred in the early Christian era.

Water Water is the principle element from which all was created. It is therefore a symbol of the womb and of fertility. Throughout Irish literature, water obeyed the druids. King Cormacís evil druids dammed the waters of Munster to weaken the inhabitants through thirst, and it was the druid Mog Ruith who freed the waters. For Christians, water symbolises baptism and the cleansing of sin. In the context of the Honan Chapel, the flowing water is a representation of a bountiful River of Life. In addition to the importance of fish in the lexicon of both Christian and pagan symbols, one tale in the Finn Cycle describes the acquisition of Knowledge from a salmon.

Sun For the Celts, the sun was the life giver and the promoter of fertility. The Celts believed in the sunís healing powers. Christ was known in Roman times as the "Sun of Righteousness."

Moon The moon is a female symbol and is associated with fertility. The female moon goddess was the consort of the male sun God. The moon was an important element in the druidsí bull sacrifice rituals.

Thunderbolt The thunderbolt represents the abrupt and harsh intervention of heaven. It symbolises the dual powers of creation and destruction.

Star Stars are symbols of the spirit, especially of the warfare between spiritual forces. Stars will fall on the day of wrath. Stars shine through the darkness and are guiding lights. Christ is "the bright star of dawn" (Revelations 22:16).

Lion The lion is a medieval symbol of resurrection. The lion embodies power, wisdom and justice, as well as their negative associations, vanity and tyranny.

Fish In the pre-Christian era, fish symbolised water. Since water was often a vehicle of rebirth, for example in legends of the multiple births of …tain and Cķ Chulainn, fish also became a symbol of rebirth. This meaning continued into Christian times. Fish then became symbols of baptism and of Christ.

Flowers Flowers were often symbols of fickleness and the fleeting nature of beauty. They also represent spring. In the context of the Honan Chapel, they further emphasise the glories of nature.

Fire Fire symbolises summer. Bonfires are lit on the Eve of St. John the Baptistís Feast Day, the closest major feast day to the summer solstice. For the Celts, fire and the sun were linked religiously; fire represents the sun on earth. Like the sun, fire has purifying and cleansing powers.

Oak Tree Throughout the ages, the oak tree has been synonymous with moral and physical strength. For the Celts, the oak tree was an emblem of hospitality and the equivalent of a temple, because of its physical appearance and the symbolism they attached to it. The oak tree also represents a conversion to Christianity. In Christian art there are depictions of Bishop Boniface resting his foot on a fallen oak tree, symbolising the conversion of the pagans.

Wind The "Druidís Wind" is one example of the druidsí powers over the elements. The Tuatha De Danann drove invading ships away from the shore with a very violent Druidís Wind. These winds were recognisable because they did not blow above the height of the sails. In the biblical tradition, the winds are Godís breath, bringing life to man. In medieval and Renaissance art, wind is personified by a bodiless head with puffed cheeks blowing air. On the chapel floor, this particular depiction of wind also relates to the Celtic belief in breath as a vehicle for magic.

Peacock Peacocks are associated with solar deities, perhaps because their cries greet the dawn. In Christian art, peacocks symbolise immortality and resurrection, as it was commonly believed that peacock flesh did not decay. A later symbolic development connects the peacock with the seven deadly sins as a personification of pride. The peacock is also associated with the four elements, symbolising air.

Polar Bear In Celtic cultures, the bear was an emblem of the warrior caste. The common Celtic word for bear is echoed in the Irish male name Mathgen (matugenos, "son of a bear"). According to the Bestiaries, bear cubs are born formless and "licked into shape" by their mother. This legend symbolises the conversion of the heathen to Christianity. Bears also personify Gluttony, Lust and Anger, three of the seven deadly sins.

The four Elements are represented in the twelve medallions by the Fish, Flowers, Fire, and the Peacock. The pre-Christians revered these elements. Their importance is also emphasised in astrology. The prominence of these elements is further evidence of the primacy of nature to the iconography of the Honan Chapel.

The four Seasons of the pre-Christian period in Ireland correlate with the principal feast days of the Christian calendar. The cycle of the months is a common feature in Gothic and Romanesque churches. The four seasons are represented by the polar bear, flowers, fire, and the oak tree.

The Celts associated animals with religion. For the early Irish, birds symbolised otherworldly deities, as well as souls leaving their bodies at death. Birds and snakes symbolised rebirth. Snakes were associated with the underworld. Perhaps this is the significance of the serpent in the centre of the chapel floor, "The serpentÖis a manifestation of the holiness of nature, a holiness which is material and in no sense spiritual." (J. Chevalier & A. Gheerbrant, A Dictionary of Symbols)

The astrological signs on the chapel floor reflect the central role of nature in pagan spirituality. Although astrology is associated with pre-Christian beliefs, the astrological signs were commonly used in mediaeval churches to represent the heavens and the cosmos as a whole.

The Honan Chapel celebrates the unique nature of Irish spirituality and of Irish artistic tradition. Paradise is depicted as being distinctly Irish; the landscape is lush and gentle, and shamrocks proliferate.

The border which frames these symbolic images replicates the zoomorphic interlace typical of Irish illuminated manuscripts. The Honan Chapel was conceived as "a Shrine to the Irish Arts and Crafts movement" and is a celebration of Irish artistic achievement. It is therefore appropriate that the border of the floor re-imagines this distinctively Irish artistic tradition.

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