A small Greek Orthodox church in the New Zealand countryside is starting to look like much larger, more decorated churches in Europe.
The Sacred Monastery of the Holy Archangels is a small church near Levin and is in the process of having its walls covered with religious icons.
The monastery, which was built in 2010, is nestled next to the Ōhau River and in the foothills of the Tararua Range, east of Levin.
Over the past two years, iconographer Maria Pagu, a Greek Orthodox Romanian, has painted pictures inside the church.
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The lower walls haven’t been painted yet, but Pagu is going down.
Eventually, every inch of the walls inside the small building, which has three chapels, will be covered with icon paintings.
When Things visited Pagu was painting a symbol of the cross, part of the symbols of the four evangelists.
Wellington-based Pagu, who specializes in iconography and art conservation, said there were many icons in churches in Eastern Europe and although paintings in the Church of Levin were new, she still wanted to preserve them.
“It’s conservation work, it’s something we’re creating again. It’s like my baby.
She began painting the church in 2019, starting with a depiction of Jesus Christ, Christ the Pantocrator, on the small dome at the top of the church. The dome is beautiful when you look up.
“Jesus Christ has to be in the highest place in a church, that will be the dome. Jesus Christ Pantocrator is one of the oldest images.
Pagu painted other churches in Romania, but with a teacher.
This is the first time she’s done one on her own and there aren’t many people who can do the job, she said.
“In my country, all the churches are painted. I think it’s because it brings you closer to your beliefs and because I think that as a human being you need evidence, you need something to understand.
Pagu arrived in New Zealand nine years ago to visit a friend, but ended up extending his stay. At this point, she didn’t know anything about New Zealand art or artists.
Once she met members of Levin’s church, they asked her to help with the painting, and she stayed.
Father Meletios Pantic, the abbot of the monastery, said he was grateful to finally see the icons on the walls of the monastery temple.
“Icons are the gospel in color. They are part of the testimony of the Church of the Incarnation.
“Icons have been an integral part of worship for centuries, as have the songs, architecture and rituals of the church.
Pagu is flying to Romania this week to return home for Christmas, but was planning to return to New Zealand one day to finish the job.