Will You Be My Fruitful Branches?

This impressive mosaic fills the entire top portion of the apse in the Seminary Chapel.  Built in 1954, the ornamentation within the Chapel was added over the years shortly after its completion.  Upon entry into this Sacred Space, the mystical reality of the Heavenly Jerusalem is beautifully laid out with each piece of tile.  From the back doors of the Chapel, the central architectural theology of the Chapel is centrally depicted here before anywhere else.
In the 15th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, we read of the parable of Jesus the True Vine.  The apse mosaic incarnates verse 5 where we read, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  From this, the rest of the Chapel takes its meaning.

 Within the mosaic itself, there are many interesting elements which not only convey the Gospel message, but serve in aiding the men in formation to see the importance of intimately connecting themselves to the True Vine, Christ the High Priest.  First, the Lamb of God in the top middle of the mosaic stands behind the Cross, pouring Himself out into the chalice of salvation.  The Lamb stands behind the Cross, depicting His journey of conquering death, victoriously moving beyond the instrument of torture and means of our salvation.  

The Lamb stands over five red circles, symbolizing the five wounds suffered on the Cross, which are visible reminders of His victory, so that through them the chalice might be filled.  His stance is stately and still, with Blood still flowing, symbolizing that our savior stands ever ready to be our example, guide, source of strength, and victor over the trials of earthly life.

The fruitful life of remaining connected to Him is depicted throughout the rest of the mosaic.  The vine has fruits and leaves budding forth so as to depict the bountiful life He promises.  It is important to note also that the one tree spans both sides of the apse, whose center is divided by a crystal blue cross, below the enthroned Lamb of God, though hidden by the baldachin.  

The Cross, as the instrument used to strike the cornerstone for living water to gush forth, waters the True Vine within which we are called to abide.  All of this speaks to the heavenly Jerusalem envisioned in the first verses of chapter 22 in Revelation.  If we abide in the vine of Christ, then we participate in the unification of nations spoken of in Revelation, since the gathering of all mankind to the bosom of the Father was, is, and will always be the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery.  The last few details are tied fairly close together.  The vine itself is red, instead of a vine we might consider being green.  Within the outstretched crimson arms are a series of twelve crowns, with twelve doves nesting throughout.  The red vine points to the Blood shed by the Lamb which gives us life.  Living a life connected to Him requires being connected also to His Death.  Therefore, the heavenly life promised in this mosaic is depicted by the crowns found within the arms of the vine.  The doves, too, are birds of peace.  They point to the nations mentioned in Revelation, the Tribes of Israel, being healed from division and gathered together in the peace of Christ.

This mosaic speaks to intimate union with Christ the True Vine, as well as the requirements and promises to the souls seeking to live a life united to Him.  As St. Paul reminds us in the second chapter of his Second Letter to Timothy, “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.”

Written by Anthony McFarland, Seminarian for the Diocese of Beaumont, TX


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