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Article Info:
published: 3/17/04
updated: 8/14/14

Aureole (Mandorla)

Christian symbols

Transfiguration with aureolo

Visual representations and signs - also known as symbols - are very important in the Christian religion. Christians may be called "people of the book" (meaning they are readers of the Bible) and "people of faith" (meaning they believe in unseen things). Still, imagery plays an important role in the Christian life. For instance, symbols incorporating colors, shapes, and numbers, can have significant importance in the right context.

While faith apart from the senses may be of primary importance in Christianity, believers recognize that God is also the creator of the human senses, including sight. Moreover, what is visible and physical can, under the right circumstances, be an aid to faith. For example, when Christians remember the cross of Jesus Christ, in accordance with biblical instruction (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11), they consume bread and wine (or similar elements) at the Lord's Supper.

Faith is thereby supported by a sensory experience.

Aureole imagery in Christian art

An aureole (from a Latin word for "gold") in Christian art is a halo that envelopes the whole body, signifying a greater degree of sanctity and divine power than a regular halo, which only crowns the head. Aureoles are often oval in shape.

Aureoles are often yellow or white in color in order to depict the purity of the person that they surround. There may be "rays" or other designs projecting outward as part of the aureole, which may symbolize the sun or simply the manifestation of holiness.

The aureole is also known as a mandorla (from the Italian for "almond"). The culture of the period of time in which it is depicted may dictate the nuances and details of the symbol. The commonality across culture and time is that the aureole is light in color and it surrounds the entire person.

The aureole or mandorla is often seen in images of Jesus Christ. They commonly appear in art that is intended to represent important scenes from his life and ministry, such as the Transfiguration, Ascension and Last Judgment.

Certain saints, especially from the early church, may also be pictured with an enveloping aureole. For instance, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is sometimes shown with an aureole in images depicting the Assumption and the Virgin Birth.

The aureole is especially frequent in portal sculpture on churches.

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  1. "Mandorla." Peter and Linda Murray, Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art (2004).
  2. Aureole illustration by Walter E. Gast.

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