The Roman Catholic and Church of England’s Twin Star of David Cathedrals

If the Star of David isn’t Christian then what are these symbols doing on the marble floor of two of the most important Churches in the entire world? This is no exaggeration either. Most observers would consider the most important Church of England Cathedral to be Westminster Abbey in London, England and the most important Catholic Church to be the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Rome. Well, it just so happens that both historic landmarks contain marble floors where there are literally dozens of six-pointed Stars of David. Why is that? The answer is simple. It because the Star of David is a Christian symbol, case closed.

 

 

Today the Star of David serves as an unequivocal Judaic emblem, highlighting the flag of the modern state of Israel. Yet it was not always so. In the Sistine Chapel, decades before Michelangelo made it world-famous for its magnificent ceiling frescoes, visitors were accustomed to looking down rather than up for aesthetic inspiration. It was the floor that received the most admiring attention. It was there that the church had commissioned its artisans to create a 15th century revival of what was known as the Cosmatesque mosaic style – the decorating style the Cosmati family developed in Rome in the 12th and 13th centuries emphasizing hexagonal geometric shapes.

The design was selected not solely for its beauty but because of its spiritual and mystical association. In the first century of the common era, the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, Egypt – a man commonly considered the central link between Greek philosophy, Judaism, and Christian mysticism – popularized the notion of two superimposed triangles, pointing both up and down, to show the flow of energy between action and reception, male and female, God and humanity, and the upper and lower worlds. In fact, the Latin name for the kind of mosaic décor making use of this design is opus Alexandrinum – because it is filled with kabbalistic symbolism originally taught by Philo of Alexandria.

The Cosmati family was well aware of this background. Its artisans recognized the great potential of Philo’s superimposed triangles to simultaneously express spiritual and visual ideals. For that reason, stunning examples of authentic Cosmati floors and decorations can be found in some of the oldest and most beautiful churches, basilicas, and cloisters in Rome and southern Italy. Even further afield, one of the last Cosmati artisans was brought to London in the 13th century to do the mystical floor mosaics in Westminster Abby, and filled that magnificent cathedral as well with clearly visible Magen Dovids.

So that is why to this very day visitors to the Sistine Chapel can, if they take a moment to divert their attention from Michelangelo’s ceiling to look at down at where their feet tread, be amazed to discover a series of Magen Dovids prominently displayed on the floor.

The Star of David and the Mosque, by Rabbi Benjamin Blech