This year marks the 40th anniversary of the dedication of the twin mosaics The Creation and The Second Coming on November 3, 1973. Designed by artist Mary Reardon, they depict the beginning and the end of the earth, serving as bookends to the Great Upper Church, and were the first mosaics at the Basilica to use a computer to measure the size and number of flat tiles that would fit into the curved ceiling.
In today’s post, we invite you to experience these breathtaking pieces of art virtually and learn more about their symbolism.
The east transept mosaic provides a vibrant, tangible picture of God’s creation of the physical world. Portraying the six days of creation in vivid colors, it centers around a depiction of God’s hand giving life to Adam and Eve. Underneath them, an embryo represents the generations that are to come.
These symbols of humanity are surrounded by various landscape elements – plants, waves, clouds, and a volcano – as well as sea creatures, birds, and various wild animals as described in Genesis 1:24-25:
“Then God said: Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: tame animals, crawling things, and every kind of wild animal. And so it happened: God made every kind of wild animal, every kind of tame animal, and every kind of thing that crawls on the ground. God saw that it was good.”
The far left shows the division of day and night, while the far right depicts the sun and moon. The left pendentives of the mosaic incorporate a double helix design of DNA, demonstrating the compatibility of science and creation.
Experience the mosaic in 360° below!
The Second Coming
The Second Coming mosaic of the west transept is inspired by Christ’s coming as described in Mark 13:26-27:
“And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather [his] elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”
The most striking and central aspect of the mosaic is the figure of Christ with outstretched arms, which is 18 feet tall! On the right, Mary leads prominent saints such as John, Peter, Paul, Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Maria Goretti, and Pope Pius X, while on the left, St. Stephen leads the unknown saints, represented by a soldier, a modern businessman, a Native American woman, a colonial American man, a frontier woman and her child, a friar, and a laborer. Those who have rejected Christ are signified by the people in distorted shades of blue and green, with heads turned from the Savior.
This majestic mosaic serves as a reminder of the hope that we have in Christ, who has conquered death and will one day return to establish the new heaven and earth. You can see the mosaic virtually below.
Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour Book. Washington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.