According to the gospels, when Jesus took Peter, John and James with him onto a mountain to pray, as he was praying, his face and his clothes became radiant. Moses and Elijah appeared, talking with Jesus.
The disciples heard God say, “This is my son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
This moment has been the subject of many artists, including Raphael, Bellini, Lotto, and Carracci.
Now it is the subject of artist Mark Balma. But instead of traveling to Rome or Paris, to see this work people come to St. John Lutheran Church in Stacy.
“The Transfiguration,” an outdoor trio of frescoes showing Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop, will be unveiled on Saturday, Sept. 29 at 6:30 p.m.
The unveiling is free and everyone is welcome to attend.
There will also be a dinner served at 5 p.m, prior to the unveiling, with an opportunity to meet the artist.
The dinner is being catered by Vannelli’s of Forest Lake at a cost of $20 per person. Due to limited seating, tickets must be purchased in advance.
Balma is one of a handful of living artists who has mastered the art of fresco, a process whereby earth pigments are applied to wet lime plaster that eventually hardens to stone.
Balma’s frescoes decorate the halls of the University of St. Thomas, the St. Paul Cathedral, and the Basilica Degli Angeli in Assisi, Italy.
“The Transfiguration” is Balma’s gift to the community of Stacy.
The images of Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop were painted outside on three gothic arches overlooking the Carlos Avery Wilderness Preserve.
They are the first outside frescoes to be attempted in over 700 years. “There might be a good reason for that,” Balma quipped one afternoon as the heat spiked to almost 100 degrees with 90 percent humidity.
For weeks Balma toiled beneath the shade of an awning suspended from the scaffolding. Starting each morning at 5 a.m., he would work until the late afternoon heat became unbearable and then take refuge inside the church.
Every few hours he would climb the scaffolding again to spray down the frescoes with distilled water to slow the curing process.
Balma completed the images at the end of July, but will return next week to plaster and paint the exposed brick arches and add the final touches to the images prior to the unveiling.
“It’s amazing how far the word has spread,” said Pastor Ed Wheatley, senior minister at St. John’s. “Every day we have a steady stream of cars passing through to see the frescoes. Just think, in our small community we will have perhaps one of the most significant contributions to the world of religious art of the past century. No one has ever done a fresco like this before.”
The image of Jesus in particular has brought reaction from the community. “He’s not the traditional blue-eyed, blond-haired image most people are accustomed to seeing,” Balma said.
The image of Jesus is based on the Shroud of Turin and was developed in conjunction with Ray Downing of Studio Macbeth, who used computer graphics to develop a three-dimensional image of the face on the Shroud.
The evangelism committee of St. John’s has been busy preparing a mailing to every church in the state, announcing the unveiling. According to Linda Miller, president of the church council, “We don’t care where you come from or what your background might be. God has made us stewards of a gift that is intended for every person of faith, and we want everyone to know that they are welcome here.”
Dinner tickets can be purchased by calling St. John’s at 651-462-5115. The unveiling, a free event, will be held outside at 6:30 p.m.
St. John’s Church is located at 31075 Genesis Ave. From Forest Lake, take I-35 7.8 miles and take Exit 139 for CR-19 east toward Stacy. After 0.2 mile, turn right onto Stacy Trail and drive 0.6 miles. Turn left onto Genesis Ave. The church is on the right.
In case the church lot fills, more parking is available and a free shuttle service will be provided.