IT was my lucky day as here was an amazing work in progress – the sort of thing you are more likely see a few centuries after its completion, not when it’s under construction.
I was cruising through Woolloongabba when I spotted a pair of domes, each with a cross on top suggesting something orthodox, overlooking a sea of rooftops.
Tackling traffic, roadworks and red lights to make a U-turn, I made my way through residential streets, guided only by the domes, and found myself in front of a very interesting church indeed.
The sign at the front announced it was a Serbian Orthodox, so I ventured into the grounds for a closer look and was most fortunate to meet Ivan.
“When might it be open to see inside?” I asked. He held up a set of keys and said “now if you like”.
As luck would have it, I had just met the president of the Serbian Orthodox Community of Woolloongabba, who generously gave a guided tour, complete with history and future plans.
The church, as it happens, is on the front of the current Yellow Pages telephone book and is built in a style that dates to the 8th century, something not at all common to Brisbane.
Although Brisbane’s Serbian community numbers in the thousands there are only about 100 parishioners but numbers are irrelevant as their church, that has cost $1.5 million to date, has everything that draws visitors to some of the beautiful old churches of Europe – except the finishing touches.
The walls under the massive domes are still bare. And that, Ivan explains, is a problem.
This church should, like other great orthodox churches around the world, have golden icons and saintly and apostolic images covering its walls and ceilings.
For now, it remains plain white as the community battles with bureaucracy to have a byzantine iconographer come from Serbia to undertake what will be a two-year project.
There’s simply nobody in Australia with the skills to do the work but after more than two years, the Immigration Department still hasn’t given permission for the artisan to enter the country because he’s aged more than 57 years, which in itself is not surprising given the rarity of his craft.
It’s confusing as two workers were allowed to come and do the brickwork in the dome without any problems but the highly specialized iconographer can’t get a permit.
The iconstasis, separating the nave from the sanctuary, was completed in Serbia and imported so that the altar area is richly coloured with paintings, engravings, and superbly detailed carvings but walls, obviously, must be done on site.
The first stage of the church was consecrated during the celebration of its patron saint, St Nicholas, on Saturday, December 22, 2007 and was followed by the consecration of the iconostasis in 2010.
Under the dome is a beautifully laid out granite floor which Ivan proudly claims as his own handiwork.
He then describes a four-metre chandelier that will hang from the main central dome, the different shapes of crosses over the different periods and the vision for emblems and 200 figures of saints that will eventually cover the walls.
The main dome will have images of Christ and the angels and the Mother of God and the Apostles will be there too – in all about 1000 sq m of painting – so Immigration should be not surprised it will take two years to complete.
Neither Ivan nor I can step through the iconstasis to stand in front of the altar – I’m a female and he’s wearing shorts!
I hand the camera to my son-in-law, a male wearing long trousers, so he can photograph the detailed carving of the Last Supper.
Ivan then leads the way to an upper level, where two fresh ropes hang down to ring the $15,000 bells.
Again we look down on bare walls. Ivan explains that the Serbian church in Canberra now draws thousands of visitors to its iconographic artworks while Brisbane’s artist is denied entry.
He issues an invitation to attend a festival at the nearby Dutton Park State School Oval, on Sunday, September 1, 2012, where there’ll be Serbian dancing, food and stalls.
I’ll be there, a taste of Europe in Brisbane.
Thank you for showing us your beautiful church, Ivan. I feel blessed to have seen the beginning of what will one day be a magnificent Byzantine artwork to be admired for centuries to come.