The paintings of our saints are gorgeous. Some of them can bring emotions out inside us that seem to transport us back to a time, a place where we would want to just sit and listen to them teach us. But, have you noticed the Halo around the head of the saints? Sure you have. But, have you ever asked yourself if it has a particular meaning?
After all, almost everything we do in the Catholic Church has a meaning behind it. So, it would make sense that a Halo in the paintings of the saints has a meaning. It certainly seems to signify more than the fact that they were saints.
Coincidentally enough, the Halo was once a pagan symbol and the Church didn’t use it or recognize it as anything other than a pagan symbol. But, when the pagans stopped using the Halo in the third century, the Church snatched it up and started using it in depictions of angels, saints, and the Holy Trinity.
The Halo actually means a few things. It stands for divinity, power, and eternity.
Let’s remember the important and vital part the saints play in the lives of Christians. They pray for us and with us. The saints have the power to intercede for us. In fact, the Bible expresses the importance of asking the saints to intercede for us and with us.
Revelation 5:8 shows us what the Apostle John saw in his vision. He sees “the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”
The 24 elders are representative of the leaders of the people of God in heaven. This passage shows how the saints in heaven offer up to God the Father the prayers of those on earth.
“(An) angel came and stood at the altar (in heaven) with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the thrown; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.” (Revelation 8: 3-4)
Do you see the power the prayers of the saints have? That’s only a portion of their power and their role, but when we see the Halo around a saint, an angel, or a Person of the Trinity, it must serve as a reminder of their power…and their importance in our own lives.
You will sometimes see the Halo in different shapes. Each shape has a meaning as well.
However, let’s remember saints are not the only ones depicted with a Halo. Angels, the Holy Trinity, and God the Father are also some who have been portrayed with a Halo.
According to Catholic Tradition, the various shapes of the halos have a specific significance. That significance is regarding the degree of perfection in the Divine order.
But, let’s remember not all artists and painters understand, adhere to, or recognize each shape for its own meaning and significance, so they don’t always stick to it in paintings.
Never the less, it doesn’t discount the meaning behind the Halo, whether an artist stays with the specific shape or not.
Triangle Halo: Used with depictions of God the Father. It symbolizes the Holy Trinity and is only used with God the Father.
Square Halo: Used for a known holy person that is still alive and living on earth. Perhaps the rarest of the Halos used.
Simple Circular Halo: Perhaps the most common.
Radiating Halo: Looks like an orb around the head of the saint. It’s less defined.
Aureole: This is the one most recognizable by the majority of Catholics because it is used around the head, and sometimes even the entire body, of Christ and the Blessed Mother Mary. In portraits and depictions of Our Lady during the Assumption or the Immaculate Conception you will see this around Our Lady’s entire body.
The Cruciform: This is a Halo that has the depiction of a cross in it. This is solely and exclusively used for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The depiction of the cross in the Halo is the reason it has its name, Cruciform.
The Mandorla: Remember the Halo surrounding the entire body of Our Lady of Guadalupe? It’s called the Mandorla. It’s a solid radiation looking Halo that surrounds the entire body of a saint, mainly that of Our Lady, and is an almond-shaped depiction.
So, go take a good look at those paintings of the saints now. Perhaps you might just see it in a whole new way….and it will give you a deeper sense of awe, wonder, and appreciation for our saints.