The Hinton St Mary Mosaic
Late Roman (Romano-British)
Hinton St Mary, England; 300 AD - 350 AD
Mosaic; L. 8.60m, W 5.90m
This magnificent mosaic was discovered buried beneath a field in the village of Hinton St Mary, Dorset, in 1963. It may feature the earliest known representation of Christ.
The mosaic was laid on the floor in the wing of a large building complex, probably including the remains of a villa. It was designed as a continuous floor in two panels for one large room divided by a pair of short cross-walls. The smaller panel contains a central roundel (circular piece) which shows the hero Bellerophon mounted on his winged horse, Pegasus. He is spearing the mythical three-headed monster, Chimaera, a scene perhaps intended to illustrate the triumph of good over evil. It is flanked (bordered) on two sides by hunting scenes showing stags pursued by hounds.
The larger panel comprises a central roundel flanked by four semi-circles. Three show similar hunting scenes and one a large, spreading tree. In the corners are busts of four male figures with windswept hair. They may represent the four Evangelists, the four winds, or indeed both.
In the central roundel is a portrait of a clean-shaven man. He has been placed in front of the Greek letters chi and rho, the first two letters of Christ's name, which form a monogram behind his head. On either side is a pomegranate, symbol of eternal life. Therefore he may represent Christ, although there is also the possibility that he represents a Christian emperor. If it is Christ, it stands at the very beginning of a tradition seen most strikingly on the wall and vault mosaics of Byzantine churches.