The Adoration of the Magi

5th century
Mosaic
Triumphal arch, Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

Unlike sarcophagi of this era, this mosaic does not put the child on Mary's lap. Instead it puts the him in a toga on an outsize throne while Mary sits to his left in her traditional blue mantle on a smaller throne and a considerably less ornate dais.

On the child's right, presumably a position of greater honor, another female sits enthroned wearing a diadem and clothing far more brilliant than the others'. She could be Ecclesia, the Church personified. Her collar is set with a double line of pearls, like the female martyrs pictured in the Euphrasian Basilica in Croatia (example).

On the woman's right is the third mage. Next to him is a man who is most likely St. Joseph. Like common people of the time he wears a short, belted tunic. He is the only bearded person, the only one wearing sandals rather than shoes, and the only one looking out at the viewer.

This image forms the second register of the mosaics on the left side of the arch. On the right side there is also a mosaic of the Magi's consultation with Herod.

View the entire left side.
View the entire arch.
Read more about the Adoration of the Magi.

Photographed at the basilica by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.





































1 Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Council of Ephesis" and "The Blessed Virgin Mary." For the date of the dedication see Wikipedia, s.v. "Santa Maria Maggiore."