Sarcophagus Fragment with Apostles, Stars, and Crowns

Late 4th century
Fragment of a stone sarcophagus
Museo Pio Vaticano, Rome

This type of sarcophagus had two groups of six apostles on either side of a symbolic representation of the Resurrection: a chi-rho in a wreath surmounting a cross with two sleeping/standing soldiers on either side. Another sarcophagus fragment in the museum shows the apostles bringing wreaths to the chi-rho. Here the wreaths are being placed on each of their heads by what is probably the hand of God. In both cases we may assume that the wreaths represent both the athletic prize that Paul commends to his readers in 1 Corinthians 9:24 and Philippians 3:14 ("I press towards the mark, to the prize of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus") and the "golden crowns" that the elders bring to the heavenly throne in Revelation 4:4,10. The offerings in the apostles' hands could be either the wreaths themselves or the "gold bowls filled with incense" that the elders carry to the Lamb in Revelation 5:8.

Judging from the fragment, this sarcophagus differed from the other one in the museum in that the apostles' faces are more individualized, they hold scrolls, and stars are engraved above each of them.

This image in full resolution
More of the apostles as a group

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