|Detail of a ceiling mosaic - Christus helios, the mosaic of Sol in Mausoleum M, the Mausoleum of the Julii, Pope Julius I. From the necropolis under St. Peter's Cathedral, Mid-3rd century Grotte Vaticane, Rome. |
This is thought to be a representation of Christ as the sun-god Helios riding in his chariot. Dated to the 3rd century AD.
Early Christian and pagan beliefs are combined in this third century mosaic of Christ as a sun-god.
"It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day." Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries, Ramsay MacMullen 1997
Sol Invictus, which translates to Unconquered Sun, was the sun god of the late Roman Empire and a patron of the Roman soldiers.
Comparing Christ with the Sun is common in ancient Christian writings. In the 5th century, Pope Leo I gave sermons on the Feast of the Nativity of how the celebration of Christ's birth coincided with increase of the sun's position in the sky e.g. "But this Nativity which is to be adored in heaven and on earth is suggested to us by no day more than this when, with the early light still shedding its rays on nature, there is borne in upon our senses the brightness of this wondrous mystery.
Celebrate the sun