Lights for Mosaics in the Temple of Saint Sava in Belgrade

The Temple of Saint Sava is a Serbian Orthodox church located on the Vracar plateau in Belgrade. Thanks to the plateau's altitude of 134 m, as well as its total height of 79 meters, the temple holds a prominent place on the Belgrade horizon and is visible from all sides as one approaches the city. The fact that it dominates the picturesque silhouette of the city from afar already speaks a lot about the impressiveness of the building. But the real impression is gained when it is finally approached.

  • Client: Temple of Saint Sava in Belgrade
  • Date of project: 2021

The temple occupies an area of ​​4830 m2 on the ground floor with an additional 1442 m2 occupied by three choir galleries on the first level and another 120 m2 gallery on the second level. It can accommodate 10,000 believers and 800 choristers at the same time. This makes it the largest orthodox temple of the Serbian Orthodox Church not only in the Balkans, but also in the world, as well as one of the largest religious buildings in the world.


Even more impressive are the numbers that speak of the mosaic that covers the interior of the temple. This copyright work of the Russian painter and iconographer Nikola Muhin covers most of the visible wall surfaces. It consists of about 50 million mosaic cubes that make up several mosaic units with a total area of ​​almost 17,000 m2, which is certainly the largest mosaic area in the world.


The seal on the monumentality of this building is based on the significance it has for Serbia and the Serbs, as a symbol of faith and freedom, but also of historical heritage, culture and spirituality.


Thanks to the monumentality and all-encompassing significance of the temple, the job of lighting the mosaics, which was awarded to us upon recommendation, was both a great honor and a professional challenge. The two obliged our lighting designer Nemanja Palalić, as well as the entire project and installation team, to engage all their knowledge and skills in the design and installation of the lighting system.


Challenges in lighting the mosaics of the Temple of Saint Sava


The backbone of our work was the client's request that the installed lighting system should not in any way visually and aesthetically disturb the interior, nor should the spotlight dominate the atmosphere of the interior, but unobtrusively emphasize the beauty of mosaics and overall interior.


Such a client's request, as well as the physical and technical characteristics of the interior of the temple and the mosaic itself, imposed several challenges: preventing the large reflection of the mosaic due to its golden colour, illuminating a large area of ​​the mosaic from a distance, and adapting to existing electrical installations.


Installed lighting system


Due to these reasons, the lighting system was based on the installation of a smaller number of lighting devices with more power, which reduced the total number of reflections while the required light intensity was maintained.

Furthermore, by adequately directing the lighting fixtures, we managed to prevent the reflection of the light in the parts of the temple where people spend time. This was especially important, as it enabled believers and other visitors to observe any part of the mosaic undisturbed by the strong glare, thanks to which every detail became visually accessible to them.

The adequate directivity additionally emphasized the selected details of the mosaic, resulting in the halos of the saints to “radiate", and the effect of the gold mosaic to be additionally enhanced.


Various and carefully selected Chauvet lighting fixtures were installed, featuring warm white light, high CRI (>95) and adequate beam angle. Some of them feature also additional filters for making the "gold" look warmer and nobler.


In the narthex, the lowest parts of the temple and starting from the very entrance, Chauvet EVE TF-20, compact LED accent luminaires were installed. Due to the colour temperature and the possibility of dimming, they are a great choice for entering the temple, because they create a warm and cosy atmosphere that welcomes anyone who steps into the church. In addition, the included barn doors make them a suitable choice for emphasizing details.


Ovation H-265WW LED houselight and Ovation P-56WW silent par were installed in the galleries, which are characterized by adequate light power and the possibility of changing the beam width. Therefore, they were an ideal choice for lighting mosaics from a greater distance.


Chauvet Ovation H-55WW were positioned on the apses of the galleries at a height of 23 m and intended for illuminating smaller areas with narrower mosaics. In addition to the apse, the H-55WW also serves to illuminate the nave pillars and the nave itself. This lighting fixture is characterized by a very similar colorimetry as offered by the H-265WW, which is expected given that they are its "younger" brothers.


The dome of the Temple of Saint Sava is illuminated by two models of Chauvet lighting fixtures. Ovation H-265WW is designed to provide the general level of light, which allows good visibility of the mosaic itself. The Ovation E-260WW profile ERS-style fixture oversees further accentuating the details on the mosaic, such as the body and head with the halo of Jesus Christ. By combining these two light products, 3 depths (dimensions) of the mosaic were achieved, one of which belongs to the halo of Jesus, the other to the body of Jesus, and the third to the apostles and the Mother of God.


The Chauvet Ovation H-55 lighting fixture was used to illuminate the priestly thrones and the mosaics behind them.


Due to the emphasized liturgical and spiritual significance, the Iconostasis and the space behind it were illuminated with special attention. Three different types of Chauvet lighting devices were used. The Ovation H-265WW is used for general lighting, while the Ovation E-160WW and Ovation P-56WW are used to accentuate the mosaics of Jesus Christ and the Mother of God.


The choice of the specific Chauvet lighting fixtures was conditioned by the fact that at the time of designing the lighting system, the electrical installations had been already installed and thus dictated the positions of the fixtures. This should not have resulted in an inadequate lighting result, which made the final decision about the Chauvet models even more challenging.


Lighting control, more precisely all 250 pieces of Chauvet light fixtures, takes place via the KNX protocol and includes integrated power switching on and off, as well as regulation of light intensity. In practical terms, the complete interior lighting is controlled via a touch panel.


Final words


Although the Temple is now fully accessible to visitors, the very entrance into it already provokes admiration due to the grandeur and beauty of the space, and the splendour of millions of mosaic cubes. With powerful, yet unobtrusive lighting and by respecting the complexity of the space, we modestly but deeply believe that we have enabled all people who enter the Temple, be they clergy, believers, tourists or passers-by, to enjoy its beauty objectively and delicately.


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