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Christ in Majesty shown within a mandorla shape in a medieval illuminated manuscript.

A mandorla is an aureola, or frame, usually in the shape of a vesica piscis, which surrounds the figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary in traditional Christian art.[1] It is distinguished from a halo in that it encircles the entire body, and not just the head. It is commonly used to frame the figure of Christ in Majesty in early medieval and Romanesque art, as well as Byzantine art of the same periods.


The term mandorla, from the Italian language name for the "almond" nut, refers to the usual shape. Sometimes however, especially in earlier depictions, the mandorla takes circular or elliptical forms. Sometimes, also usually in earlier forms, the mandorla is shown as the intersection of two circles. Rhombic mandorlas are also sometimes seen.

In icons of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the mandorla is used to depict sacred moments which transcend time and space, such as the Resurrection and the Transfiguration of Christ and the Dormition of the Theotokos. These mandorla will often be painted in several concentric patterns of color which grow darker as they come close to the center. This is in keeping with the church's use of apophatic theology, as described by Dionysius the Areopagite and others. As holiness increases, there is no way to depict its brightness except by darkness.

In architectural iconography, the frame of the mandorla is often marked with decorative mouldings. The interior of the mandorla is usually undecorated, but may contain the symbols Α and Ω or, less frequently, depictions of a starry sky or clouds.

In a famous romanesque fresco of Christ in Glory at Sant Climent de Taüll, the inscription Ego Sum Lux Mundi ("I Am the Light of the World") is incorporated in the mandorla design.[2]

The tympanum at Conques has Christ, with a gesture carved in romanesque sculpture, indicate the angels at his feet bearing candlesticks. Six surrounding stars, resembling blossoming flowers, indicate the known planets including the Moon. Here the symbolism implies Christ as the Sun.[3]

In one special case, at Cervon (Nièvre), Christ is seated surrounded by eight stars, resembling blossoming flowers.[4] At Conques the flowers are six-petalled. At Cervon, where the almond motif is repeated in the rim of the mandorla, they are five-petalled, as are almond flowers—the first flowers to appear at the end of winter, even before the leaves of the almond tree. The symbolism of the nine-branched Chanukkiyah candelabrum may be relevant. In the 12th century a great school of Judaic thought radiated from Narbonne, coinciding with the origins of the Kabbalah.[5] Furthermore, at Cervon the eight star/flower only is six petalled: the Root of David, the Morningstar, mentioned at the close of Book of Revelation (22:16).[6] (In one of the oldest manuscripts of the complete Hebrew Bible, the Leningrad Codex, one finds the Star of David imbedded in an octagon.)

In the symbolism of Hildegard of Bingen the mandorla refers to the Cosmos.[7]


  1. ^ Liungman, Carl G. (1991). Dictionary of Symbols. W.W. Norton. p. 287. ISBN 0-393-31236-4.
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  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-10-07. Retrieved 2007-10-07.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Scholem, Gershom (1990). Origins of the Kabbalah. Princeton Paperback. ISBN 0-691-07314-7.
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  7. ^ Riedel, Ingrid (1994). Hildegard von Bingen, Prophetin der kosmischen Weisheit. Kreuz Verlag, Zürich.