The great high central nave invites the visitor to turn their attention to the mystery of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Depicted in the apse, Mary was brought to heaven by angels, which physically and spiritually dominates the Cathedral, so as to invite visitors to look up to discover the eternal destiny to which all humanity is called: communion with God in Heaven, accompanied by Mary, who has gone before us and awaits us in the fullness of her person, both physical and spiritual.
The mystery of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, body and soul, is the culmination of the Virgin’s glory but also the anticipation of that glorious destiny that awaits every person who is united to Jesus Christ. To arrive at this triumph of life and eternal happiness, a path must be followed. Even Mary has completed her journey of faith; a process that is depicted in the frescoes of the central nave ceiling.
The high Volutes of the nave arches invite one to look at the ceiling, where the highlights of the Virgin Mary’s earthly life are painted. It is a path of pictorial catechesis that brings the visitor to meet the mystery of the Assumption of Mary. An invitation to look up, because higher-up is the destiny of Man close to God. The themes represented in the frescoes on the ceiling are partially inspired by the Sacred Scripture and partially by the apocryphal tradition.
The source that firstly tells the event is the so-called Gospel of James, according to which Mary was born in Jerusalem in the house of Joachim and Anna. The birth of Mary throws a subtle and penetrating ray of light in the history of humanity; a beam that will expand up to illuminate the universe. Through her, conceived without original sin, God’s original plan returns on the scene of the world: the creation of mankind in His image and likeness, without any trace of sin, in perfect communion with his Creator. Mary fully expresses the mystery of human life conceived, loved, wanted by God for a life and a destiny of beauty and perfect eternal happiness, which for Mary culminates in her Assumption into Heaven in body and soul. Mary’s birth marks the beginning of the redemption through the Incarnation of the Word of God; a mystery in which Mary is associated since its conception.
The scene of the presentation of Mary at the Temple, as we know, is not narrated in any of the sacred texts, and is offered with abundant details from the apocryphal (especially the Gospel of James), i.e. from those very ancient writings and for many aspects similar to the books of the Bible, even though, the Church has always refused to consider it inspired by God and therefore a sacred Scripture. The “Presentation at the Temple” that the Gospel of St. Luke tells us is that of Jesus; a ritual gesture that the Law of Moses prescribed for all firstborn male children of Israel. The theme of “Presentation of Mary” has nothing to do with this gesture but it means, according to the apocryphal tradition, the total consecration of Mary to the will of God from the beginning of her life.
The Gospel of St. Luke tells us that Mary was “betrothed to a man of the house of David, named Joseph.” The painting of the wedding of Mary therefore is based on this biblical quote and, in the freedom of expression that belongs to painting and art in general, the author offers us a solemn way to look at this meeting of the generous and faithful love Mary shares with Joseph, consecrated in the dignity of marriage. On the base of an authentic human love, chosen and lived with fidelity, the mystery of divine life and salvation that God offers to humanity is introduced.
Almost for a sense of respect and reverence for Mary, the Latin expression “Dormitio” is used instead of the term death to indicate the end of his earthly life. It is preferred to speak about “falling asleep” or “Dormitio”, because the faith professed in the Catholic Church teaches that Mary, left this earthly world, was taken up into heaven in the completeness of her person, physically and spiritually without knowing the humiliation of the body corruption after death.
The Apostolic Constitution “Munificentissimus Deus” by Pope Pius XII, (1st November 1950) irrevocably proclaims the dogma of the assumption without specifying whether Mary is dead or not. So the Pope writes: “The Immaculate Mother of God ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was brought, body and soul, into heavenly glory.”
The document does not support weather she died or not, but merely states: “finished the course of her earthly life” in whatever way this has happened, with or without death.
It should be stressed that in the Apostolic Constitution itself, Pope Pius XII always makes reference to Mary’s death as a universal belief of the faithful, the liturgy, the Fathers of the Church, the theologians and the Catholic iconography.
To Mary, Mother of the Son of God, a special privilege was reserved, which announces that the destiny of man has always been conceived by God as a destiny of life, where death, with its suffering characters and of humiliation, has no place.
This painting is over the presbytery and it is the next image after the Assumption painted in the apse: as if to say that Mary falls asleep to climb the glory of heaven with the angels that solemnly accompany her.
From the Gospel of St. Luke we receive “the message of the messages”: the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will become the mother of God’s Son (cf. Lk 1, 26.). A biblical theme represented by many great artists; the moment when God enters into human history by becoming incarnate in the womb of a woman. It is a subverting event, which disturbs the natural order of things but it is presented with an infinite delicacy, to which Mary offers no resistance. Indeed: she offers all her full readiness to do what God asks. It is the theme depicted in the right transept ceiling.
Again a Biblical theme (cf. Lk. 1, 39 ff.), the one of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary, who has just received from the Angel Gabriel the announcement of the conception of Jesus and also the news that her elderly cousin Elizabeth is pregnant by the grace of God, goes suddenly to her elderly relative to help her and assist her.
This is the gesture of charity of a young woman who is not proud, who is not arrogant for the gifts received from God, but rather, she is immediately available to serve her neighbour. Mary’s visit to Elizabeth says, with concrete gestures, what it is the right way to live the great gifts of God: the perfect way to express the dignity of those visited by God, is be at service of others. (Jesus will wash the feet of his disciples before consuming the Passover Supper)
In the centre of the transept, under the dome, the ceiling features pictures of the four great prophets, each one arranged in a corner of the structure, as if to signify their role as foundations of the cathedral heart: they are the carriers of the eternal Word of God, announcers of the great mysteries which sustain the Church’s faith.
Isaiah is the prophet who announces: “The Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel “(Is. 7, 14).
A strong and clear reference to Mary, the Virgin who gives birth to the Son of God.
Baruch offers a magnificent reflection-praise on Wisdom. It urges the People of Israel to consider what an extraordinary privilege God has given them by giving them His wisdom (cf.. Ba. 3, 37-38. 4.1). Is the announcement of the coming of Jesus in the world, the eternal Wisdom of the Father that puts his dwelling amongst men. Mary is, par excellence, the “location of Wisdom”: she welcomed Wisdom first with faith and then with her own body.
Joel is considered the prophet of Pentecost.
In the Pentecost day, St Peter Apostle proclaims the outpouring of the Spirit, quoting Joel’s prophecy: prophecy which is fulfilled precisely with the descent of the Holy Spirit and by the signs that accompany and follow it (cf. Acts 2, 16 -21).
Even Mary, together with the Apostles, receives the gift of the Holy Spirit who, however, has already worked in her in the mystery of the incarnation of God’s Word.
Hosea is the first of the prophets who dared to make the conjugal love the symbol of God’s love for Israel, His people.
Hosea comes to this symbolism reflecting on his personal experience, that of an unhappy marriage, a betrayed love.
Through this consideration, Hosea understands the mission that God entrusts him: being cantor and interpreter of the bridal love between God and Israel: the tender and merciful love of God, which is constantly, tirelessly faithful. That Love that God gives to mankind in the person of Jesus, passing through the Virgin Mary