The Feast of Christ the King is celebrated this week, on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, as the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The feast was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in response the secular and atheistic attitudes of that time. In the papal encyclical establishing the feast, the Pope included the words of Pope Leo XIII, “the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ.” Several biblical passages support the Kingship, including the memorable passage, “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (Is 9:5)
Symbolism in Sacred Art
The Kingship of Christ has been celebrated in sacred art for centuries. It is especially visible in stained glass windows. Of course, the prominent symbolism of the crown is representative of Christ’s royalty as sovereign over heaven and earth. The crown may be of the “western-type” with spikes and jewels or a rounded crown like the mitres worn in the Eastern Church. In the image, Christ the King will likely be adorned with a red robe, again representative of His royalty, but also bringing to mind the blood that He shed in the redemptive sacrifice on Golgotha. Images of Christ the King will usually be holding a globe with a cross on top in the left hand. Sometimes a blue globe will be colored with the green continents of the Earth, again representing Christ’s dominion over all of the Earth and its creatures. Sometimes the orb will be of a solid color, but divided into quadrants illustrating His reign over the North, South, East and West, or the four elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire. In the depictions, His right hand will be raised in the blessing of His subjects. Another important symbol seen in the images are the bare feet of Christ. The symbolic representation of a King without shoes illustrates the humility of Christ, as He told His disciples after washing their feet, “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (Jn 13:14-15)
Stained Glass Windows at Chartres
Although the Feast of Christ the King was only officially instituted in 1925, the representations of Christ the King have been decorating churches for centuries. Some of the most well-loved images are at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres in Chartres, France. The UNESCO world heritage site was constructed in the 12th century and has scores of beautiful stained glass windows made in the 12th and 13th centuries. There are several windows at Chartres depicting images of Christ as King, including the window in the center of the rose window in the south transept known as “Christ Blessing.” In the north clerestory of the choir is an impressive window of “Christ between Alpha and Omega” illustrating His reign from beginning to end.
Infant Jesus of Prague Symbolism
Images of the Infant Jesus of Prague show the symbolism of Christ the King with a crown, a cross-topped globe, a royal robe and a hand raised in blessing. The features of Infant Jesus combine Christ’s Kingship with the innocence of a child. Representations of the blessed King and Infant can be found in churches across the world. Read more about Infant Jesus at https://churchwonders.com/infant-jesus-of-prague/