Gemma Animae: On the Great Crown

Chapter 141
On the Corona

Aachen 1 (pb).jpg
Charlemagn’e Palatine Chapel at Aachen (Source)

A corona is suspended in the temple for three reasons. One reason is to decorate the church, which is illuminated by its lights [1]. Another reason is that when we see it we are reminded that those who serve God with devotion in this life will see the crown of life (coronam vitae) and the light of joy.

The third reason is to remind us of the Heavenly Jerusalem, since the corona is made in its image [2]. For it is made of gold, silver, bronze, and iron. The gold stands for those who are resplendent in wisdom; silver for those of brilliant eloquence; bronze, for those of sweet-sounding doctrine; the iron for those who have conquered their vices. The towers of the corona [vide infra] are those who protect the Church with their writings; the lamps are those who shine with good works. And the gold are the martyrs; the silver, the virgins; the bronze, the continent; the iron, those who serve their spouses. The gems in the corona sparkle like the coruscations of the virtues. Metals forged in flame are used to decorate the corona, just as the elect who are proven in the way of tribulation are chosen to decorate the Heavenly Jerusalem [3]. The chain by which the corona is held aloft is the hope by which the Church stretches from earthly toward heavenly things. The higher circle to which it is attached is God who supports all things.


[1] As read in a verse inscribed in the corona of the cathedral of Metz:

Cujus in æde sacra rutilans micat ista Corona,
 Ad lumen turbæ, vel decus Ecclesiæ.

[2] Honorius uses the same word corona to refer to the “halo” around a saint’s head and to name the great central chandelier in a church. Pugin explains what these were: 

There was scarcely a church in ancient times which was not provided with a corona, richer or plainer in design, according to the wealth or dignity of the foundation. Sometimes they were formed of triple circles, which, when filled with tapers, produced a pyramidal form of light. The number of tapers in these coronas was regulated according to the solemnity of the festival, and at the solemnity of Easter the great corona which usually hung in the centre before the great Rood, presented a most glorious and lively emblem of the Resurrection. De Moleon, in his account of S. Jean de Lyons, makes the following mention of the coronas formerly hanging in that church :—” Outre ce Ratelier il y a au Jube trois Couronnes d’argent chargees du trois cierges chacune, et encore quelques autres cierges à Matines, que l’on eteint sur la fin des Pseaumes de Laudes, parce qu’il fait plus grand jour : comme on fait dans nos eglises sur la fin des Laudes des trois derniers jours de la semaine sainte.” Also in the cathedral Church of the Holy Cross at Orleans, the silver lamp that hung in the choir had three crowns for lights. In Claude Malingre’s Antiquities of Paris, printed in 1640, is a curious account of the lamps and lights formerly in use in the Church of Notre Dame, in which there is the following account of two large coronas. ” lls (Le Doyen et Chapitre) ordonnerent aussi que les deux grandee roues de fer snspendues a l’Eglise (contenant chacune cent cierges) seroient allumees le jour de la Purification de Notre Dame” (Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament and Costume, 84).

This corona is still a basic feature of churches built in the eastern style, and was once much more common in the West, where one of the most magnificent examples is found in Charlemagne’s Palatine Chapel at Aachen. 

The whole decorative program of this church is dedicated to evoking the Heavenly Jerusalem: the octogonal dome, the rings of crown-bearing saints, and Christ in judgment on a ceiling mosaic that appears to fade away into the realm of the angels.


The center-piece is the corona, a huge golden chandelier depending from the dome to just above head height: a miniature model of the Heavenly Jerusalem, gorgeously engraved and diamond encrusted. If we look closely, we can find in it all the features that Honorius mentions.

  1. The golden leaf pattern all around the upper circle, which is similar to that on the crowns carried by the saints above.
  2. The “towers,” here also points of the crown.
  3. The lamps/candles.
  4. The chain, here with an orb at its base, a common feature in crowns. This may also be the “higher circle,” the place where the radiating chains come together.

Screen Shot 2018-06-02 at 8.27.51 AM

A poem in elegiac meter is graven around the whole exterior in two rows–but I was rushed out of the chapel by an officious janitor before I had a chance to record it…There are other very similar coronae in Germany.

More examples of this type of corona:

Corona 4 (wiki, notre dame).jpg
Corona chandelier from Notre Dame, Paris (Source). Here the tower-crown is above.
Corona 5 (all saints)
All Saints’ Church, Slingsby, UK. Notice the “towers” on the lower level and the hoops of the crown above (Source)

The corona in the katholikon of Vatopaidi, Mt. Athos, Greece (Source):

EV8C1331 2015-04-11 01-59-40Corona 6 (Vatopaidi)

This is the most common form of corona I have found, but there are other types too, such as in this peculiar example of a hooped crown from Lyon Cathedral.

Lyon Procession 1

Take a look at this arrangement over the choir of St. James Cathedral, in Jerusalem. The spaces between the four pillars around the choir have been strung with chains bearing lanterns, and each of these is drawn up to a peak by a chain hanging from the ceiling. The lanterns are multi-colored and sparkling, as if imitating the gems of a crown. To me, the arrangement suggests a square, four-pointed crown overhanging the choir. But it could just be my imagination and I don’t know what the Armenians call this arrangement.

Corona 7 (St James).jpg

There is a similar thing at the Armenians’ chapel in the Holy Sepulchre:

Corona 9


And at the Church of the Nativity:

Corona 8 (Nativity).jpg

A final, simpler form is a lantern with a crown on top:

Corona 9 (Unction).jpg
Lamps over the Stone of Unction, Jerusalem
Corona (Sepulchre)
A crowned lantern hung in front of the Aedicule in the Holy Sepulchre

I’d welcome images of more kinds of corona.

For more on the liturgical use of lanterns and their mystical significance, see this excellent essay over at Orthodox Arts Journal, from which, some worthy excerpts:

“Among all the furnishings found in a church, lamps have always held a certain sacral honor. Saint John saw seven lamps standing before the throne of God. The vesperal hymn, Phos Hilarion, proclaims during the lighting of the lamps, “O Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal Father,” thus connecting the flame of the lamps to the uncreated light of God. Lamps stand partly in our world, casting useful light for the services, and partly in the realm of Divine Mystery. A lamp before an icon is a beacon of the light of heaven that shines on the living saint [….]

When hung about ten or twelve feet above the floor, lamps and chandeliers come to resemble the starry firmament, which, compared to heaven painted above, is quite close to earth. This transparent ceiling of lamps magnifies the interior of the Church because by comparison the frescoed vaults above appear farther away. This is a simple optical effect, yet there is a mystical dimension as well, for the Church is truly a microcosm. The lamps are stars, and, to those with eyes to see, standing beneath them feels like standing outside, as though all the universe were contained in the temple, an infinite chalice holding all of creation.”

[3] A favorite trope of Honorius, drawn from the Book of Revelation. 

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