Vatican News

The Nativity and Epiphany in early Christian art

As the Church celebrates the Octave of Christmas, Vatican News has prepared a video of depictions of the Nativity and Epiphany on early Christian sarcophagi displayed in the Vatican Museums.

The mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God and of His manifestation to humanity (Epiphany) represents one of the main features of the “stories of Salvation” narrated in ancient Christian art.

Amongst the first themes inspired by the Gospels treated by Christian artists was the episode of the adoration of the Kings (Matthew 2: 1-12), which depicted the fulfillment of the biblical prophecies, according to which the Messiah would have been adored by the kings of the earth.

In the first decades of the 4th century, especially after the introduction of the Christmas Liturgical Festivity, other scenes related to the birth of Jesus also spread, such as the one of the shepherds' adoration or, most of all, the one of the child lying in the manger with Mary, His mother, on His side and the donkey and the ox nearby (the latter was taken from the apocryphal stories).

The fragments of sarcophagi displayed in the Pio Cristiano Museum - all carved in the 4th century - testify to the widespread diffusion of these scenes in the nascent Christian iconography. We invite you to visit them in person!

28 December 2017, 15:10