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God Immortal Be Adored: Reflecting on the Message of the Trinity Dome

 “All ye holy men and women, pray for us!”

With these words from the Litany of the Saints, the Church prays for the intercession of the Communion of Saints, while welcoming the newly baptized at the Easter Vigil. Every Christian is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Christian faith begins, rests, and ends in the Holy Trinity, and the Christian life is a journey of communion with the divine Persons. Yet for many, the doctrine of the Trinity remains abstract – even removed – from everyday life. The central dome mosaic of the Basilica’s Great Upper Church depicts the Holy Trinity and brings this central mystery to life in vivid color and brilliant light.

The Trinity Dome Mosaic

About the Trinity Dome

Considered the Basilica’s “crowning jewel,” the Trinity Dome brought to completion architectural and iconographic plans begun nearly a century ago. Handcrafted by mosaic artists in Spilimbergo, Italy, the beauty of this dome mosaic invites pilgrims to contemplate anew the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Creed, a procession of angels and saints, and the four evangelists. The Trinity Dome mosaic features 14 million pieces of Venetian glass displayed in over 1,000 color variations. The grand work spans 18,300 square feet and weighs approximately 24 tons.

Four pendentives at the base of the Trinity Dome depict the four evangelists, who write their Gospels under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Each evangelist is shown with distinct artistic attributes following traditional iconography. The four sacred authors appear to hold up the circle of the central dome, symbolizing the faith of the Church that rests on their sacred witness.

The Gospels, inspired by the Holy Spirit, are summarized in the words of the Creed we profess each Sunday. This link between the Gospels and the Creed is conveyed visually around the dome base with the complete text of the Nicene Creed in brilliant mosaic of gold and blue.

Trinity depicted in the trinity dome
God the Father (right) portrayed with Jesus (left), and the Holy Spirit represented by a dove in the Trinity Dome

As our gaze continues upward, larger-than-life haloed figures of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, can be seen. The love of the Trinity is evoked in gentle expressions that invite us to participate in the life and love of the divine family.

God the Father sits enthroned in majesty, clothed in green and purple robes. In His left hand, the Father holds an orb evoking His divine, omnipotent power as Creator of heaven and earth. With His right hand, He points our gaze to Jesus, His beloved Son, who sits on His right. Jesus’ left hand reaches out to His heavenly Father in filial love as He holds a large cross in His right hand. The dove of the Holy Spirit hovers between them and radiates their mutual divine love in brilliant rays that span the dome.

Opposite the Holy Trinity stands the monumental figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her Immaculate Conception. Angels bear the Queen of Heaven, who stands clothed in flowing robes of blue, gold, and white, with a crown of 12 stars framing her haloed head. With her foot she crushes the head of the ancient serpent, and with her outstretched arms she watches, with maternal eyes of love and protection, over her spiritual children who look to her in faith. From the oculus above, golden rays bathe the entire sacred space with heavenly light.

The closeness of the Holy Trinity to every Christian is evoked in the host of angels and saints who encircle the divine Persons. This glorious procession depicts holy angels and saints who guide the pilgrim’s journey of faith to union with the Trinitarian God. Each saint in this circular procession holds a significant place in the history of Catholicism in the Americas, such as Saint Juan Diego with his tilma image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Saint Mother Teresa, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Saint Junipero Serra, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, Saint Damien of Moloka’i, and Saint John Neumann, among many other saints framed on either side by the Archangel Michael and the Archangel Gabriel. The faithful who gaze on this heavenly procession are invited to join in their hymn of adoration and praise to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The Message of the Trinity Dome

The sacred art in this magnificent Marian shrine invites pilgrims to journey with the Mother of God as she points the way to her divine Son Jesus, who leads us to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Here, sacred art illustrates the origin and goal of the Christian life – that is, union with the Triune God in faith, hope, and love. The Trinity Dome mosaic invites every pilgrim to draw close to the Holy Trinity by contemplating this work of “genuine sacred art that draws us to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier” (Catechism, 2502).

Jem SullivanAbout Dr. Jem Sullivan

Dr. Jem Sullivan, Ph.D., is a member of the National Shrine Iconography Committee. She is associate professor in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. and is an appointed member of the International Council for Catechesis in the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization in Rome. She is an appointed member of the International Council for Catechesis in the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization in Rome. Over three decades, she has served the Church at the national and diocesan levels, and has taught seminarians, undergraduate and graduate students. Dr. Sullivan is the author of four books including The Beauty of Faith: Christian Art and the Good News and Believe, Celebrate, Live, Pray: A Weekly Retreat with the Catechism. Her most recent book is Way of Beauty: Rekindling Eucharistic Amazement with Visio Divina. She writes art essays for Magnificat and is a guest commentator for USCCB’s Scripture reflections. Jem has hosted two EWTN television documentaries on the arts and evangelization, and used to serve as a volunteer docent at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., where she led tours of the museum’s masterpiece collections. Jem resides in Maryland with her family and is a parishioner at Saint Mark’s Catholic Church.

You can read more from Dr. Jem Sullivan in her new book, Way of Beauty, now available at the National Shrine Shops. Learn more

The Way of Beauty


Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour BookWashington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.

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