Sarcophagus Fragment with the Nativity

4th century
Museo Pio Cristiano, Vatican City

As in other 4th-century sarcophagi Mary is seated beside the manger, which is in a stable, not a cave. The Star of Bethlehem is carved as if an extension of the stable's roof. The ox and ass are already standard at this time; here only the ass has survived the breakage. It is eating a large mouthful of something – possibly an early instance of Eucharistic imagery.

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More of the Nativity

Photographed at the museum by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.