Hinton St. Mary Mosaic, mid-4th century AD
Stone
28.4 (length) x 19.6 (width) ft.
Dorset, England

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Buried underground for more than 1,500 years, the Hinton St. Mary Mosaic was discovered at the site of a Roman villa in 1963. Created from red, buff, grey, blue-grey, and yellow stone tesserae, it is set in cement, one of the Roman Empire’s greatest innovations. The mosaic, spanning two rooms, is believed to include the oldest known depiction of Christ in Britain and perhaps the entire Roman Empire. Remarkable for combining both Christian and pagan iconography, the central roundel of the larger room features a youthful male figure in a white pallium generally thought to be Christ. Identified by the Greek letters Chi and Rho behind the bust, representing the first letters in Christos, he is also flanked by pomegranates, symbolizing Christ’s victory over death and the promise of eternal life. The rest of the mosaic (not shown here) includes pagan references, that include the four seasons in the corners, although these may also represent the Four Evangelists. In the smaller adjoining room is a similar circular panel that features Bellerophon riding Pegasus and slaying the three-headed monster Chimaera, that could be interpreted as Good triumphing over Evil. This combination of Christian iconography and pagan imagery is typical of this period in Roman Britain.

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