Until the 4th century only Christ was depicted wear a halo, the symbol of those who lived as saints and who were admitted to heaven.
From the 9th century the halo had been adopted and used to represent all the saints. These were plain round haloes; the circle representing the symbol of perfection and eternity and golden in colour which symbolized divine light. Halos are often interpreted as representations of the heavenly space (think aura in modern terms) that surrounds a saint. Its focus is on the head perceived to be the noblest part of the human body and the font of the soul.
The square halo, as beautifully represented with a mosaic portrait of Pope Pascal I (817-824) in the church of S. Prassede in Rome, tells us that the mosaic (or painting/fresco) of a person, in this case Pope Pascal I, was alive when the portrait was commissioned. The square halo represents the four points of the compass as a symbol of earth and the blue colour depicts the sky; suggesting purity and spirituality.
Pascal I is portrayed with complete self-detachment in preparation for the flight of his soul towards God suggesting an intermediate stage on his path to heaven where his halo will become round and golden in colour.
S. Prassede Basilica – Via di Santa Prassede, 9 – tel: 064882456 – Open daily from 07.30 to 12.00 and 16.00 to 18.30