The Annunciation Mosaic: The Annunciation and Incarnation in the Catholic Doctrine

An Essay by Brother Jesus Romo, M.Sp.S.

Curator's Note: This post is a paper from a College One student at Mount Angel Seminary, Brother Jesus Romo, a seminarian who is a member of the the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit.

His paper is the result of two assignments in Writing in the Humanities, an in-class essay and an outside essay.  Both assignments focus on the mosaic of the Annunciation in Annunciation, one of the main buildings of Mount Angel Seminary.  The mosaic is based on an icon written through the hand of Brother Claude Lane, OSB.

Incarnate Beauty also contains more detailed photos of the Holy Spirit, the Archangel Gabriel, and the Mother of God.

The Annunciation Mosaic: The Annunciation and Incarnation in the Catholic Doctrine

The mosaic of the Annunciation is distinguished by its size and beauty.  One will find it by the main entrance of the Annunciation building at Mount Angel Seminary.  This mosaic is very attractive for all kinds of people, even students who visit the building on a daily basis.  The Annunciation building is dedicated to the study of theology.  The mosaic is in the center of the Annunciation building because as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “the Annunciation to Mary inaugurates the fullness of time, the time of the fulfillment of God’s promise and preparations” (122).  Having the Annunciation mosaic in the center of the building gives a direct message that the Annunciation and Incarnation are the central basis of the Catholic doctrine according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

According to the Gospel of Luke, the Angel Gabriel appears to a virgin girl from Nazareth named Mary.  He brings her a message from God.  Mary is to conceive and the child will be God’s Son, through the work of the Holy Spirit, for the salvation of the world.  For this to happen, Mary shall say “yes” to God’s proposal.  One will find the three personages of the Annunciation act in the Annunciation mosaic. They are also three outstanding characters of the Catholic doctrine: the Angel Gabriel, the Virgin Mary, and the Holy Spirit (the dove).

Based on the Angel’s posture, it seems that he just landed from another kingdom.  He brings with him God’s message to Mary.  With his right hand he is pointing up to heaven, the kingdom from where he comes. In his left hand he has a scroll.  The scroll contains God’s message to Mary. The Angel’s wings are in two different directions, one pointing up to heaven and the other pointing down to earth.  The wings symbolize a great part of the message he brings.  Since one of the wings is pointing up to heaven, just as his right hand points to heaven, this notes that the message he brings is from above.

The wings also have two different colors, blue and brown.  One sees blue on the top part of the Angel’s wing, that part of the wing which is closer to heaven.  Blue signifies divinity, purity, and also symbolizes the chosen one; therefore, the message comes from the divine, the pure, and announces the Chosen One.  The lower part of the wing is brown.  Usually brown represents things that belong to earth; therefore, the message will become earthly.  The blue and brown of the Angel’s wings also represent what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Jesus Christ became truly man while remaining truly God” (117).  By this teaching of the Church one can verify that the Annunciation is in the heart of the Catholic doctrine.

In the Annunciation mosaic one can find that the Virgin Mary is in a posture of listening to the message which the Angel brings from God.  Mary is not looking at the Angel; she is gazing up to heaven where the message comes from.  Her hands are distant one from the other as a sign of openness to the message.  She is also holding a red spindle with her hands, and the thread of the spindle is stretched.  The stretched thread relates to the words of St. Irenaeus in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience” (125).  The red of the spindle, which stands for sacrifice, also symbolizes the sacrifice Mary is doing by accepting God’s proposal, the opposite of Eve’s behavior of ignoring God’s mandate. 

In the mosaic one can find the color red in different parts. The shoes and the veil Mary is wearing are some of those.  One can also find red in the cloth covering the altar and the ribbon around Mary’s waist.  On the roof which covers Mary’s house, and one must not leave out the red line which frames the mosaic.  Since the red color represents sacrifice, one can find a connection between Christ’s sacrifice and Mary’s sacrifice.  Christ is represented by the altar covered with the red cloth.  One can say that Mary’s house is covered with sacrifice, just as the altar.   Since Mary’s veil is red one can say that she is covered with sacrifice, and not only covered, but she even walks on sacrifice, for her very shoes are red.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says about this connection that “Mary was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of Jesus’ redemptive suffering” (161).  The relationship between Mary and Jesus, as mother and son, makes Mary partaker of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Another color we find in the mosaic is green, which represents hope and eternal life.  One finds the color on the upper figure of the mosaic, in the angel’s garment, and in the curtains of Mary’s house.  That upper figure of the mosaic has a green circle, which stands for a God who has no beginning nor end, and since the angel, clothed with green himself is a messenger from that God, the message he brings is a message filled with eternal life and hope.  One can also say that the green curtains found in Mary’s house symbolize the hope God himself saw in Mary’s house.  This message of hope for humankind is also in the basis of the Catholic faith.

Continuing on the description of Mary’s house in the Annunciation mosaic, one can find that her house is framed in white.  White represents purity and divinity.  The whiteness in Mary’s house stands for her purity.  Since one can also find white in the clouds inside the circle of the upper figure of the mosaic and on the dove, which is the Holy Spirit, one may say that the divinity of God is connected to the purity of Mary through the Holy Spirit.  To this the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that Mary was appropriately gifted by God through the Holy Spirit to be the mother of Jesus (123).
The color gold covers a great part of the mosaic; actually, it is one of the points that attracts the viewer the most.  Gold represents eternity and light and is usually used on those that dwell in the glory of God.  One can find the color gold in the three main characters of the mosaic who are meaningful in the Catholic faith, Mary, the angel and the dove (Holy Spirit).  Most of the background of the mosaic is also gold, representing the immensity and eternity of God.  By Mary’s acceptance of God’s proposal God Himself dwells in Mary.  He makes her a partaker of his glory.

With the previous interpretation of the Annunciation Mosaic, one can clearly see why the act of the Annunciation is part of the core of the Catholic doctrine.  Since the act of the Annunciation is in the heart of the Catholic doctrine, the Annunciation mosaic is located in the center of the Annunciation building.  The location of the mosaic also reminds the students who study in this building that the act of the Annunciation is at the center of the message that they receive from their teachers. 

Work Cited
Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994. Print.