The Icon of the Early Church
The Four-Leaf Rosette
(A Four-leaf rosette tile mosaic from the Church at Shoham)
The Icon of the Early Church is commonly found in ancient artwork as well as modern artwork in Israel. It is even used today by organizations who recognize it as a Christian symbol but who do not understand its origin or meaning.
The icon of the Early Church is a four-leaf rosette normally found inside of a circle. This is much like the six-leaf rosette that is the icon of the House of David. To properly understand the significance of the four-leaf rosette we must look at its history, origin, and connection to the six-leaf rosette.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a young lady who was raised in a synagogue in Zippori. The city of Zippori lies in the region of Nazareth. She was dedicated by her parents, Ann and Joachim, to spend her life serving in the Temple in Jerusalem. She was being trained for Temple service in her hometown of Zippori. When she was 14 years of age the priests of the synagogue saw that the future of the Temple might be in jeopardy so they committed her to an old bachelor of the synagogue who was 70 years of age. His name was Joseph.
Mary’s mother, Ann, was from a priestly family. Her family’s priestly inheritance or work was to provide the saffron for the Temple sacrifices. This saffron came from a crocus flower that grew naturally where her family originated. Since saffron was required for Temple sacrifice and it had to be bought from the designated priestly family, Ann’s family owned the exclusive business of selling the saffron for all of the Temple sacrifices. This saffron came from the stigma of the small crocus flower that grew in Bethlehem Ephrata. It was rare and thus very expensive.
Mary came from a wealthy family of priests. Ann’s brother, Joseph, owned a plot of land in the most prestigious garden just outside the city walls of Jerusalem: the Garden of Gethsemane. In fact, he had a tomb there in which he let Mary use to bury Jesus after He was crucified.
Mary’s family was identified by the six-leaf rosette that represented the crocus flower, which grew naturally in Bethlehem Ephrata. When Caesar Augustus ordered the census, Mary had to go back to her family’s hometown: Bethlehem Ephrata. When she arrived, she went into labor. The guesthouse was full so she went into the holiest place of all in that city; the stable of the Tower of the Flock where the Passover lamb and the scapegoat lamb were raised. The six-leaf rosette not only represents Jesus’ priestly heritage, it also represents the location where Jesus entered this earth in a human body, born of the virgin Mary.
Many Jews accepted Jesus as the Messiah. There were many Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah and chose, rather, to follow their traditions. Jesus never denounced His heritage as a priest. He kept the Law and practiced Biblical Judaism. The Bible is clear on this matter. Matthew 5:16-18 is clear about Jesus’ relationship to the Old Testament (Law). He exhorts His disciples in verse 16 to do good works and thereby glorify God. In Verse 17 He says he did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets but to do the Law. The Greek word plhrosai means to do completely or accomplish. It never has any connotation of destroying or ending. This word is normally translated in English as “fulfill.” In context this has to mean that Jesus came to completely keep the Law; not put an end to it.
Jesus had many confrontations with the religious leaders while He ministered on this earth. Those confrontations were concerning the keeping of the traditions that had accumulated in the religious community. In themselves, traditions are not bad but they can be wrong when they conflict or take the place of God’s Law. Jesus lived to show His followers how to keep the Law as opposed to religious traditions. Jesus never renounced the Law or stopped it. In verse 18 of Matthew 5 Jesus emphatically proclaims that not one jot or tittle of the Law will become invalid or go away until all of the prophecies in it are completed. Jesus kept the Law, the feasts and the Shabbat.
After Jesus died, the followers of God were distinct from the previous followers of God in one aspect; they followed Jesus as the Messiah. The former followers of God were marked by the six-leaf rosette. They aligned themselves with the heritage of the House of David. The followers of Christ kept the same heritage except Jesus became their High Priest and all of their completed sacrifices. In order to identify these believers as distinct from the former believers, they morphed the icon of the six –leaf rosette and the cross upon which Jesus died to make a new icon: the four-leaf rosette. The earliest forms of the cross are not shaped like “t” as is the Roman cross. The earliest forms of the cross are symmetrical like a plus sign. The icon of the Early Church is based on the six-leaf rosette.
(An Ancient lintel with six-leaf rosettes, the cross and four leaf rosettes.)
The icon of the Early Church can be found in numerous archaeological sites in Israel. It appears on tile mosaic floors, chancel screens in Early Church buildings, lintels, and even windows. Once a person realizes that the four-leaf rosette is the icon of the Early Church, he can find it in many places in Israel.
(A window from an Early Church with the four-leaf rosette.)
(A Mosaic of the Icon of the Early Church found in the synagogue in Magdala)
© Dr. Steven L Smith 2016