Christ as the Sun God

Christ as the Sun God

The image was found in a Christian tomb, the Tomb of Julii, in the Vatican necropolis located in Rome.This is a great example of early Christian art which used imagery and styles already recognizable to people.

Photo credit: Dr. Ronald V. Wiedenhoeft, Scholar’s Resource, Inc. Kis-0002

3rd Century, Rome 

This image is a part of a larger mosaic on the ceiling of the Tomb of Julli in the Vatican necropolis in Rome, is of Byzantine origin and is representative of Early Christian art. The mosaic is made of tesserae and depicts Christ as the sun god Sol Invictus in a chariot pulled by two white horses at a size of 198cm x 163 cm in a tomb which is 1.98m x 1.63m x 2m (Judaism and Rome) (Spier, 51). In order to portray Christ as the most important figure in the mosaic, he was larger than the two horses who pulled his chariot. This method is referred to as visual hierarchy where the most important figure, regardless of subject, is larger than the other figures portrayed. Christ is shown wearing gold robes set in front of a yellow/gold background and with a sun crown on his head shows resemblance to the well known sun god of Roman tradition. In reference to its early Christian creation in Rome, the figure is depicted in a Classical style commonly used by Roman artists. In contrast to the yellow and gold background tesserae the mosaic features varying shades of green tesserae in the pattern of vines and leafs, almost functioning as a frame around the central and most important figure of Christ in this particular image. The illusion to the sun is important, as it represents both death and resurrection as Earth travels around it and from Earth it is seen to set and rise. This is much like Christ, who they believed died for the sins of those who believed in him and then was resurrected into heaven. For those who hoped for eternal life through Christ, this would be very fitting to find in a tomb.


Spier, Jeffrey. "The Emergence of Christian Art." Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art, by Jeffrey Spier et al., New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2007, pp. 51-52.

Pearse, Roger. "The image of Christ-Helios in the mosaics of Vatican Tomb M." Roger Pearse: Thoughts on Antiquity, Patristics, Information Access, and More, Roger Pearse, 27 Sept. 2011, Accessed 5 Apr. 2018.

Fowler, Kimberly. "Tomb of the Julii (Mausoleum M)." Judaism and Rome, 21 Sept. 2016, Accessed 10 Apr. 2018.

"Christ Helios, Ceiling Mosaic from the Tomb of Julli, necropolis below St. Peter." DigitalCommons@Fairfield, Accessed 5 Apr. 2018.

Christ as the Sun God