Christian Praying Figure
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Christian Praying Figure
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Ostia MosaicMosaics in the expansive brick buildings of Ostia, the harbor city of ancient Rome, showed the Christianizing process at a reasonably advanced stage in the second and third centuries. In Ostia, which was the seaport for Roman goods, there were ornate tile floor mosaics detailing Eucharistic loaves, a chalice, and fish motifs. There was moreover a fascinating complex of three houses on the Caelian Hill which was one of the seven hills in Rome. The use of "opus reticulatum" which was a diamond pattern brickwork, together with herringbone tiling in the construction pointed to the first century as the probable date of the building of the house.

Ornate Frescoes

Hands of a child and adultThe ornate frescoes found in the Caelian houses in Rome were very similar in design and execution to the style at Pompeii dating to 79 AD. Before the mid-second century, another house was modified so as to take over the adjoining house. That building contained in its dining area a remarkable mosaic of a Christian praying figure, called an "Orante," from the Latin for "one who is praying or pleading." This figure had its arms outstretched above the head in prayer. Such a figure confirmed the Christian ownership of the house but in a very subtle way. These were very similar to those found in the Catacombs which meant "among the tombs." In the passageways cut in the rock there were burial places, grave niches and also indications of religious practices mainly by Christian as well as many wall paintings.✞

Pagan Praying Figure

NaplesThe National Museum at Naples had two good examples of praying figures of pagan origin, dating from before 79 AD, which were found at Pompeii. For all their similarity, there was a striking difference between the pagan praying figure and the Christian one in that the posture of the praying Christians, which was evidently modeled on it was quite different.

Arms Outstretched

Smyrna Praying FigureThe pagan figure kept the upper arms to the side of the body, while extending the forearms forward in supplication. The Christian praying figure stretched out the arms above the head in supplication like Christ with arms outstretched on the Cross.

"Christian Praying Figure"
by Ron Meacock © 2018

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