Archaeologists in Spain have unearthed one of the earliest known images of Jesus, shedding new light on the appearance of Christianity in Spain.
Engraved on a glass plate (called a paten) which dates back to the 4th century A.D., Jesus is depicted beardless and with short, curly hair. He wears what appears to be a philosopher's toga and is flanked by two equally beardless male characters, thought to be the apostles Peter and Paul. All men have halos over their heads.
The plate, which measures 8.6 inches in diameter, is believed to have held Eucharistic bread in early Christian rituals. It was unearthed, broken in several fragments, inside a religious building in the ancient town of Cástulo in Andalusia.
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According to Marcelo Castro, head of the FORVM MMX excavation project, the building was erected in the second half of the fourth century A.D. and abandoned about a century later.
"We know it dates back to the 4th century, in part because popes in the following centuries ordered all patens to be made out of silver," Castro told The Local.
The dating coincides with the rule of Roman emperor Constantine, who ended the persecutions of Christians.
Representing the earliest depiction of Jesus found in Spain, the glass plate features greenish hues and is in an excellent state of preservation. Archaeologists managed to piece together 81 percent of its original area.
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According to Castro, the plate is in line with the Christ in Majesty iconography. Copying Roman and Byzantine styles, the early Christian artists always portrayed Jesus in the center of the composition, often flanked by other sacred characters.
In the glass paten, Jesus holds the Cross in one hand - a symbol of the resurrection - and the Holy Scriptures in the other. Both the figures on his sides, possibly the apostles Peter and Paul, carry a roll in their hands.
"The scene takes place in the celestial orb, framed between two palm trees, which in Christian iconography represent immortality, the afterlife and heaven, among other things," the archaeologists wrote in a statement.
The paten is now on display at the Archaeological Museum of Linares.