The Hinton St Mary Mosaic

One of the treasures of the British Museum, this 4th century mosaic found in present-day Dorset in the south of England is the earliest known representation of Christ from Britain or the Roman Empire.

The mosaic – only the central roundel is on display in the museum although the floors from two rooms exist – was found in 1963 when a post hole was being dug by local blacksmith Walter White.

It is identified as Christ because of the ‘Chi Rho’ symbol behind the head (the elongated ‘P’ and ‘X’ shape) and because of the pomegranates to either side. These were an ancient symbol of immortality. Christianity became the official state religion in 312 CE under Constantine, but non-Christian gods were still worshipped for some time.

Interestingly, the mosaic in the room next to this one had a pagan image of Bellerophon killing the chimaera – perhaps the owner of the villa where it was built was hedging his bets with both Christian and pagan symbols.

It is a unique survival because in 427CE the emperor specifically banned the making of mosaic floors with the image of Christ and ordered existing ones to be removed – because Roman rule had ended in Britain (the common date given is 410CE) this survived that edict.

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