A Mandorla is a Vesica Piscis shaped aureola which surrounds the figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary in traditional Christian art. It is especially used to frame the figure of Christ in Majesty in early medieval and Romanesque art, as well as Byzantine art of the same periods. The term refers to the almond like shape: “mandorla” means almond nut in Italian. In iconsof the Eastern Orthodox Church, the mandorla is used to depict sacred moments which transcend time and space, such as the Resurrection, Transfiguration, and the Dormition of the Theotokos. These mandorla will often be painted in several concentric patterns of color which grow darker as they come close to the center. This is in keeping with the church’s use ofApophatic theology, as described by Dionysius the Areopagite and others. As holiness increases, there is no way to depict its brightness, except by darkness.
The symbol is also used in non-Christian contexts. In various religions the almond seed has been associated with divine virgin birth. For instance the virgin nymph Nana miraculously conceived of Attis by putting a ripe almond in her bosom.In a famous romanesque fresco of Christ in Glory at Sant Climent de Taüll the inscription “Ego Sum Lux Mundi” is incorporated in the Mandorla design.
The tympanum at Conques has Christ, with one of those beautiful gestures carved in romanesque sculpture, indicate the angels at his feet bearing candlesticks. Six surrounding stars, resembling blossoming flowers, indicate the known planets including the moon. Here the symbolism implies Christ as the Sun.
In one special case, at Cervon (Nièvre), Christ is seated surrounded by eight stars, resembling blossoming flowers. At Conques the flowers are six-petalled. At Cervon, where the almond motif is repeated in the rim of the mandorla, they are five-petalled, as are almond flowers -the first flowers to appear at the end of winter, even before the leaves of the almond tree. Here one is tempted to seek for reference in the symbolism of the nine branched Chanukkiyah candelabrum. It should be remembered that in the XII century a great school of Judaic thought radiated from Narbonne, coinciding with the origins of theKabbalah. Furthermore, at Cervon the eight star/flower only is six petalled: the Root of David, the Morningstar, mentioned at the close of Book of Revelation (22:16) ( In one of the oldest manuscripts of the complete Hebrew Bible, the Leningrad Codex, one finds the Star of David imbedded in an octagon )
In the symbolism of Hildegarde von Bingen the mandorla refers to the Cosmos.