Cathedral of St. Giovanni in Laterano, Rome, Italy. Apse, mosaic. Fourth to thirteenth centuries. Baptism cross.
See Saving Paradise, xii-xiv, 2, 4.
This mosaic amalgamates images of the baptism of Jesus with images of earthly paradise and resurrection.
At the top of the cross, water flows from the Holy Spirit depicted as a dove. In the medallion at the center of the cross, John baptizes Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22; John 1:31-34). From the pool of water at the base of the cross, four rivers emerge. Letters along side the rivers spell their names: Gion, Pison, Tigris, and Eufrates. These are the four rivers of paradise named in Genesis 2:10-14. On either side of the rivers, sheep and deer are refreshed in the meadows of paradise (Psalms 23 and 44) The golden city between the rivers, sheltered by a palm tree with a phoenix, signifies the New Jerusalem as described in Ezekiel and Revelationimages of the resurrected community.
The river Jordon flows across the bottom of the apsewatering all the earth. This is the oldest portion of the mosaic, dating to the fourth century. Notice the wind-surfing cherub. Of the renewing river of life, Ezekiel 47:9-12 writes, wherever the river goes every living creature which swarms will live on the banks of both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing. See also Joel 3:18; Zechariah 14:8, and Revelation 22.
The figures of Mary and John and the saints were added in the thirteenth century.