When you ascend the hill that leads up onto Franciscan University of Steubenville’s campus and look across the Rosary Circle, a glittering mosaic will likely catch your eye. At first, you may only be able to make out a vague form inside a golden almond shape. As you get closer, you’ll see Our Lady, crowned as Queen of the Angels, standing within a mandorla formed by fiery seraphim. Her rose-colored mantle drapes around a representation of her holy womb. Inside, surrounded by concentric circles dotted with stars, Jesus holds a miniature Portiuncula and blesses the onlooker. The sun, moon, and stars are arranged in a pattern in the background, and upon close investigation, the familiar sights of campus can be recognized in the landscape stretched out below.
Our Lady of the Angels mosaic came to be after many COVID rosaries. During that tumultuous time, students, faculty, and staff often gathered in the Rosary Circle to pray together. It was then that Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR, recognized the need for a central image of the Blessed Virgin Mary on campus. With the seventy-fifth jubilee approaching, a committee was formed to orchestrate the creation and installation of a mosaic on campus in honor of Our Lady. Our Lady of the Angels was chosen as the subject for the mosaic. This title has deep significance to the university because the Portiuncula Chapel, rebuilt by St. Francis, was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under this name. This article will walk you through the piece, unpacking how this image functions as visual theology. We will explore how two influences from our Catholic artistic tradition guided the work. The imagery and composition of the mosaic were inspired by the iconographic theme of “Our Lady of the Sign,” which shows Jesus Incarnate within the womb of the Blessed Virgin, and by St. Francis’ poem “Canticle of Creatures.”