In 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, as a reminder that Christ reigns above all earthly rulers. Celebrated on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, this solemnity invites us to reflect upon Christ’s role as our Lord and King. No matter what trials and tribulations we face or how deficient our earthly governments are, we rest in the joy that Christ is ultimately in control over everything and will one day return in power and glory. In this Basilica Insider post, we invite you to learn more about the Christ in Majesty mosaic and how it honors Christ’s role as king.
The Creation of the Christ in Majesty Mosaic
Christ is honored throughout the art and architecture of the Basilica, but his kingship is most prominently portrayed in the Christ in Majesty mosaic. One of the largest mosaics of Christ in the world, it measures 3,610 square feet and features 3,000 different shades of Venetian glass tiles – including 300 shades of red alone. The mosaic is the centerpiece of the Great Upper Church, culminating the story of Christ told by the five domes. Designed by artist John de Rosen, it was the first completed mosaic of the Great Upper Church, and the only ornamentation on its dedication day on November 20, 1959.
The Scriptural inspiration for the artwork comes from Isaiah 63:1:
“Who is this that comes from Edom,
in crimsoned garments, from Bozrah?
Who is this, glorious in his apparel,
striding in the greatness of his strength?
‘It is I, I who announce vindication,
mighty to save.’”
Experience the Christ in Majesty Mosaic Virtually
Enjoy immersive 360° views of the Christ in Majesty mosaic with our virtual tour below!
The mosaic has much to tell us about Christ our King. This type of depiction of Christ is known as Kyrios, which is Greek for “lord” or “master.” A jeweled crown demonstrates His divinity, and the cross of fire represents the glory of God’s presence. Christ is master of the universe, which is symbolized by the signs of the zodiac on the arch above. He is also master of the angels, represented by nine who surround Him. The three red-robed angels are dominations (ministers) who each watch over one dominion: temporal things (portrayed with a tree), contemplation (depicted with an eagle), and spiritual things (shown with a cross). The four white-robed angels are Guardians, one of whom holds the National Shrine, and the final two are Seraphim, depicted as wheels of fire.
The mosaic is not only a picture of Christ’s power and might; it also portrays His profound mercy and sacrifice. While one of His eyebrows is raised in judgment, the other is relaxed, revealing his mercy and kindness to His children. Additionally, de Rosen’s design shows Christ on a rainbow throne, a symbol of pardon and reconciliation, harkening to the Lord’s promise to Noah in the Old Testament. His right shoulder is bare to show His wounded side, demonstrating His humanity and the blood of His sacrifice.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, we can reflect with joy upon our all-powerful Savior, who loves us completely, as Ephesians 2:47 says:
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
The Basilica Guidebook, Dr. Geraldine Rohling