The Apse Mosaic at Cefalù Cathedral: Detail, Melchizedech and Five Prophets

12th century
Cathedral of the Transfiguration, Cefalù, Sicily

The six figures placed around the window are chosen not randomly but according to a program that can be understood only by reading the phrases on their scrolls and understanding what they mean in the context of Christian faith.

At the top a figure labeled as Holy Melchizedech proffers a chalice of wine, referencing Genesis 14:18, "Melchisedech the king of Salem, bringing forth bread and wine, for he was the priest of the most high God." Below the clipeus Moses is on the right and the prophet Hosea on the left. Moses' scroll holds the words of Genesis 1:1; Hosea's, the first part of Hosea 6:3, "He will revive us after two days: on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live [in his sight]."

The three prophets in the register below Hosea and Moses are (left to right) Joel, Amos, and Obadiah. Joel's scroll has a phrase from Joel 2:28, "I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh"; Amos's, "Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when the ploughman shall overtake the reaper" – a prophecy from Amos 9:13 of the restoration of Israel. In the same vein, Obadiah's scroll references Obadiah 17, "And in mount Sion shall be salvation, and it shall be holy, and the house of Jacob shall possess those that possessed them."

The figures and their prophecies thus draw out some important points of Christian belief regarding the Eucharistic service on the altar below: the body of Christ prefigured by Melchizedech's chalice is the body in which the faithful rise again "on the third day," for it is not only Jesus but "us" that the Lord will raise up to a new life characterized by spirituality (Joel), surprising fruitfulness (Amos), and victory over the sin and death that once "possessed them."

View this image in full resolution.
View the entire apse.
Read more about Melchizedech and about Moses.

Photographed at the cathedral by Claire Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.