Passion of the People – 1.3.4

Heaven and Stars in Christian Imagery in Churches and Monasteries

The sky and stars are an essential part of Christian iconography and there is hardly a church that does not have a corresponding image in one place. Directly linked to the pictorial representation are symbols and meanings that may be difficult to understand even for Christians today, but in church history, the meanings were as readable as a book for every Christian.

Heaven is often depicted in Christian imagery as a place of eternal glory and happiness in the presence of God. It is often shown as a bright, radiant realm filled with angels and saints. In churches and monasteries, this imagery is often found in the form of frescoes, mosaics, and stained glass windows.

Stars are also a common symbol in Christian imagery, particularly in the context of the Nativity. The Star of Bethlehem, which guided the Three Holy Kings to the birthplace of Jesus, is a powerful symbol of the revelation of Christ to the world. This symbol is often depicted in the form of a star above the figures of Mary and Joseph, and the baby Jesus in Nativity scenes. Additionally, the “Stella Maris” (Star of the Sea) is a title given to the Virgin Mary in Catholic Church, this title is depicted with a star in many monasteries and churches’ art.

There are many churches around the world that feature frescoes with stars. Some famous examples include:

  • The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, Italy, which features a fresco of the Star of Bethlehem above the altar in the apse.
  • The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Palestine, which is believed to be the site of Jesus’ birth. The church features a 14th-century fresco depicting the Star of Bethlehem above the altar in the Grotto of the Nativity.
  • The Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, which features frescoes painted by Michelangelo, includes a panel called The Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Planets that depicts the stars and planets in the sky.
  • The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which features a fresco of the Star of Bethlehem above the altar in the Chapel of the Angel.
  • The Monastery of St. John the Theologian on Patmos, Greece, which features frescoes of the Star of Bethlehem in the narthex of the church.

These are just a few examples of churches that feature frescoes with stars. Many other churches and monasteries around the world also have similar artworks that depict the stars in Christian imagery.

Image by Michael GaidaPixabay
Image by Julia SchwabPixabay
Gothic vault in the cathedral in York, Great Britain – Image by ian kelsallPixabay
Image by Julian HackerPixabay
Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome – Image by Leonhard NiederwimmerPixabay

Further Resources

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A UNESCO video on the painted Moldavian churches of the 16th century. Most of them are famous for their “sky-blue” background which is meant as a reference to the divine sky.

 A video about Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica in Rome with some takes of the paintings with stars

La Cappella Sistina (tratto da Atlante di Arte e Immagine) – Zanichelli editorie

Basilica della Natività – Betlemme – Christian Media Center – Italiano

Online Resources

Written in the Stars: Astronomy and Astrology in Medieval Manuscripts Faith, science, and stargazing influenced everyday decisions in the Middle Ages

A description of the “Creation of the Sun, Moon and Planets” by Michelangelo in the Sixtine Chapel in Rome

Christian Art – A History of Christian Artwork and Biblical Paintings

La complessa simbologia delle stelle nella Bibbia – Simone Venturini


PatrimonioUnesco – Il monastero di San Giovanni e la grotta dell’Apocalisse a Patmos (1999) – Punto Grecia

Cappella del Santo Sepolcro, Gerusalemme, Israele – Sacred sites

Stella di Betlemme, tra scienza e leggenda – Eroica fenice

Further Readings

Teaching Material

For Kids

Christian art facts for kids