Photo by R. Malcolm Brown, Jr.
Scroll below to learn more about this photo and the amazing shots made
with a video camera during a recent trip to Israel.
As Background Material and an Introduction
Read below the words of Brother
Donald Mansir, F.S.C., K.H.S.
St. Mary's College, California, Former Vice-President, Pontifical Mission for Palestine
"If there is one piece of man's
work on earth that should be
durable and perfect, a marvel of
gold and precious woods, it is the
vault on high, covering this most
These are the words written down by Harry Harewood Leech in his travel journal entitled Letters of a Sentimental Idler, to describe his disappointment with the shrine built over the site of Christ's death, burial and resurrection, first by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century and rebuilt in the twelfth century by the Crusaders. In the 1860's, when Leech wrote his account, the interior of the Church was shrouded in darkness: the windows were boarded up and the Great Dome was filled with scaffolding. After more than one hundred years of decay, the Great Dome was repaired in the 1970's but the scaffolding remained. The three Custodians of this shrine - the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch, and the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land, as recognized by Ottoman law - had yet to agree on the interior decoration of the Great Dome. Thus, it remained veiled in darkness.
It was during lunch with the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Torkom Manoogian, that an American businessman, George Doty of New York, asked if I knew an artist who might be able to come up with a design for the interior of the Great Dome. He, George Doty, would finance the project if the Custodians agreed. I immediately thought of Ara "Corky" Normart. During my seven years as teacher and administrator at San Joaquin Memorial High School, I had come to know him and his family. Regularly invited to family celebrations, I came to know Corky as the not-so-brilliant violinist whose real talents lay in the watercolors and stained glass. While born into an Armenian family, his religious affiliation is Episcopalian. I was sure the Custodians would presume, and rightly so that Corky would not be prejudiced for or against the Catholics, the Armenians, or the Greeks. His professional expertise in public relations and advertising give him the skill to sell ideas and products. This would be an important factor in developing a persuasive presentation of a design to the Custodians. Corky is a pious man. We needed an artist who would be willing to accommodate the many requirements of the three Christian communities and whose ego would not get in the way of the delicate work needed to maneuver through the history and international laws governing all activity in the Holy Sepulchre.
I returned to New York and Corky to Fresno, California. A flurry of faxes and courier mail traveled between the two cities as thoughts on the design, which had to follow the directives established by each Custodian, were exchanged. Some forty-two renderings were made. One had symbols of the crown of thorns including the color red for the blood of Christ. Too western and too Catholic. Another rendering had blue representing the heavens. Too Greek. In the end, Corky was left with two colors: white and gold! The finally approved design draws the pilgrim's eyes away from the tomb and, as the angel declared, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" And so on August 17, 1994, Diodoris I, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, invited his brother Custodians, His Beatitude Torkom Manoogian, Armenian Apostolic Patriarch of Jerusalem, and His Paternity, Reverend Father Giuseppe Nazzaro, OFM, Custos of the Holy Land to the patriarchal hall of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. An agreement had been reached! The Agreement is the result of the pious creativity of Corky Normart. It is the result of the good will and fraternal love among the current Custodians who have acted collectively as one Christian leadership. This Agreement is at its core a virtuous ecumenical act that has taken courage, trust, and prayer on the part of these three Custodians and His Eminence Archbishop Timothy of Lydda. As the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch of Jerusalem declared, "This Agreement is a turning point for all Christendom!" I am honored to have been associated with these Custodians, with Archbishop Timothy and with Corky Normart. I am delighted that the Fresno Art Museum saw the importance of the project and the talent of this artist, demonstrated by an exhibit of the project and of his watercolors. It is truly satisfying now to see the project and the artwork exhibited in NewYork, mounted by the American Bible Society.
Brother Donald Mansir, F.S.C., K.H.S. St. Mary's College, California
Former Vice-President, Pontifical Mission for Palestine
I had never heard of A.F. Normart, Jr. until May 20, 1999. I was watching a travel presentation on Cable TV, and right before my eyes was a fantastic account of the person who designed the dome decorations for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre!
Believe me, the video effect that I captured in January was truly the work of God as I had absolutely no idea was what was to transpire. As I aimed the camera vertically from beneath the great dome and zoomed in, the 13 foot diameter skylight details emerged with 14 silhouetted spokes. This caused the exposure of the 12 gold radiating rays to become become obscure, revealing an "iris" which gazed me directly in the face. Even more impressive is the actual video which shows the subtle lighting transitions as I zoomed out and the 12 gold rays become visible. These rays are to represent the 12 disciples of Jesus, and at the end of each ray are three points representing the Holy Trinity. This event in January, 1999 during my visit did not seem "totally random" to me. I felt that it is truly the "Eye of God" , the site where Jesus ascended on the third day.
Below are some of the images I captured that day. These are for anyone to download and admire. They represent one of the most moving experiences of my life. What are your impressions as you begin to scroll through these images?
R. Malcolm Brown,
The Final Glory of the Image Below!
Here is more information on Mr. Ara "Corky" Normart, Jr.
In the spring of 1994, a California artist, A.F Normart, Jr., was asked to submit a design to finally complete the reconstruction project that had lain dormant since 1980. In August of that year, the custodians of Christendom's most holy sites unanimously agreed to accept Normart's design. Work was completed in December of 1996 and a dedication was held on January 2, 1997 revealing a design of striking simplicity that took advantage of the natural light entering the space through a thirteen foot skylight at the very top of the structure. This natural light is enhanced by artificial lighting that includes fibre optically illuminated plastic rods, massive elements cast in relief and gilded in 23 karat gold and a 7250 square foot wall surface covered with a luminous paint, again taking advantage of the unique lighting scheme.
Normart's design is symbolic of the explosion of light at the resurrection, when, according to Christian belief, "on the third day he rose again". The design consists of twelve main rays, symbolizing the twelve apostles, each ray divided in three representing the trinity. Centered and suspended below the main rays is a ring of Golden Tongues of Flame, the flame that touched the apostles at Pentecost. Mounted inside this ring is a circle of white spears of light, each separated by two fibre optically illuminated plastic rods, all signifying the explosion of light in keeping with the theme of the decoration.
On the wall surface itself, three uneven rays of light divide the space between the Main rays and a field of six pointed "Jerusalem Stars" circles the base of the dome. Normart crafted 42 different versions of the design before settling on the thirty-eighth version for completion. For the final presentation, a model was constructed of plastic, complete with miniature lighting in place to demonstrate the plane illumination of the dome interior. Normart, who is known primarily as a watercolorist, is also involved in the design and production of dalle de verre (faceted glass) windows for churches in Central California.
Here are some more very interesting links covering the restoration of the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The unveiling was January 2, 1997, my birthday!
Here is an excellent site for the historical aspects of the restoration of the dome. Click HERE
Another fine webpage from Christusrex covering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Excellent Inaugural and Construction photos
Inauguration Ceremonies Link-Excellent!
Site constructed by R. Malcolm Brown, Jr. May 23, 1999