Ch. 11, Note 19: S. Sabina Doors, Rome

The church of S. Sabina, Rome, dates from the fifth century. The four living creatures are depicted in Row 2, image 4. (The identification of several of these images is disputed.)

Click to enlarge images.

Eighteen panels survive of the carved doors of S. Sabina, though their original order is unknown.

Row 1, image 1   This panel represents one of the earliest depictions of the crucifixion.

Row 1, image 2   The risen Christ appears to the women disciples on Easter morning.

Row 1, image 3   The magi present gifts to an enthroned virgin and child. There are similar scenes on Christian sarcophagi (here and here). In a slightly later mosaic image from S. Apollinare Nuovo (Ravenna), virgin and child are now turned to face the viewer  (here). The magi still approach them from the left but are separated from them by angels, and will eventually drop out of the picture entirely.

Row 1, image 4   Peter and Paul stand on either side of the enthroned Christ.

Row 2, image 1   The miracles of Lazarus raised, loaves multiplied, and water changed into wine. Note the magic wand in all three.

Row 2, image 2   Four scenes from the life of Moses: the burning bush, and the provision of manna, quail, and water in the wilderness.

Row 2, image 3   While this panel has been thought to depict the ascension of Jesus, the corpse-like posture of the ascending figure makes this unlikely (see GW, pp. 562-65). More probably the panel represents the ascension of Moses, as described in the now lost Assumption of Moses, where Moses is both buried and assumed into heaven. The figures below are Caleb and Joshua (depicted twice), who have been with Moses in his last moments and have differing responses to his ascension, as reported by Clement of Alexandria (Strom.

Row 2, image 4   The ascension of Christ (for this interpretation see GW, pp. 560-62). Christ stands facing forward, his head raised and right arm extended. From his left hand hangs down an open scroll, on which the letters Ι θ | Χ C | Y are displayed. On either side of him is an enlarged A and Ω. The circle enclosing Christ alludes to the wheels of Ezekiel’s vision (Ez. 1.15-21). In the top left  corner is visible an eagle’s head in profile; in the top right is a lion’s head with wings. The winged human and calf are located to the left and right of the lower part of the wheel. The wheel is enclosed and borne upwards by their wings, beyond the visible heavens with sun, moon, and stars. Below, Mary and two male disciples gaze upwards.

Row 3, image 1   Christ appears to three women disciples on Easter morning.

Row 3, image 2   The risen Christ appears to two women who acclaim him.

Row 3, image 3   Peter’s denial.

Row 3, image 4   Habakkuk abducted by an angel (Dn.14.33-39 LXX).

Row 4, image 1   Moses and the burning bush, divided into three scenes, from the bottom: (1) Moses, a shepherd, catches sight of the burning bush (Ex.3.1-3); (2) he removes his sandals at the angel’s instruction (Ex.3.4-5); (3) he protests his inadequacy, but finally accepts his commission (Ex.3.7-4.17).

Row 4, image 2   Zechariah emerges from the temple after his angelic vision, unable to speak to the waiting crowds. The angel is still visible within the temple. (For this interpretation see GW, pp. 560-61, n.20.)

Row 4, image 3   Further scenes from the life of Moses: from below, (1) the contest with the Egyptian magicians (Ex.7.8-13); (2) the overthrow of Pharaoh at the Red Sea (Ex.14.26-29).

Row 4, image 4   The ascension of Elijah.

Row 5, image 1   Pilate washes his hands before Jesus.

Row 5, image 2   Jesus stands before Pilate.

(For an alternative set of images of the S. Sabina doors, click here. Please note that the captions accompanying the second set of images do not necessarily coincide with the interpretations presented here.)