Spanish archaeologists have found an early Christian artifact that shows Jesus Christ without a beard, in contrast to modern depictions. The glass plate, known as paten, holds the Holy Eucharist during the Mass. It dates from the fourth century, making it the earliest depiction of Jesus found in Spain.
“We know it dates back to the fourth century, in part because popes in the following centuries ordered all patens to be made out of silver,” Marcelo Castro, head of the Forum MMX excavation project, told The Local. Archaeologists also were able to confirm the date from coins and ceramic objects at the same site.
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The ancient glass plate was discovered in pieces in the Iberian-Roman city of Castulo, near the modern-day town of Linares. It was found among ruins that belonged to a religious building. It took three years to excavate the site, Agence France-Presse reports.
The paten is about 8.5 inches in diameter and shows a short-haired Jesus holding a cross. He stands between two apostles believed to be Peter and Paul. While modern depictions of Jesus typically show him with long blond or brown flowing hair and a beard, early Christian art shows Jesus in a variety of ways.
For instance, some images found in Roman catacombs shows a beardless Jesus dressed as a philosopher. An image found in an Egyptian tomb from the sixth or seventh century shows Jesus as a young man with curly hair and dressed in a tunic. In 2001, a forensic study of a skull of a first-century Jewish man led British scientists and Israeli archeologists to paint a different picture of Christ. Rather than the white-faced, bearded man with light brown, shoulder length hair, the new portrait depicted a man with a stouter nose, dark skin and short hair.
Castro says the paten his team discovered resembles other Christ in Majesty iconography where Jesus is at the center of the composition flanked by the apostles and other sacred figures. In the image, Jesus is holding the cross in one hand and the Holy Scriptures in the other.
“The scene takes place in the celestial orb, framed between two palm trees, which in Christian iconography represent immortality, the afterlife and heaven, among other things,” the archaeologists wrote in a statement. The paten went on display this month at the Archaeological Museum of Linares.