This large, intricate mosaic is found in the Chapel of the Holy Souls of Westminster Cathedral in London. It tells the story of the Three Holy Youths – Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego – in the fiery furnace. The book of Daniel says that these Jewish young men worked at the court of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. Due to their refusal to worship an idol he had set up, the king had them thrown alive into a fiery furnace.
From left to right in the furnace are Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, still dressed as described in the text – in their cloaks and hats. At the bottom left and right are guards who accidentally got caught in the flames. King Nebuchadnezzar looks down on the scene, speaking with his advisors.
According to the Latin text, he is saying: “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered the king, and said: ‘True, O king.’ He answered, and said: Behold I see four men loose and walking in the midst of the fire, and there is no hurt in them, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”
The book of Daniel says that an angel appeared in the furnace and drove the flames away from the Three Holy Youths, enabling them to praise God in song unharmed. Thanks to the king’s description, the fourth man is depicted here as Christ, the literal Son of God, rather than an angel. The miracle prompted the king to remove the men from the fire and to order respect for their God.
The mosaic was designed by John Francis Bentley and produced by Christian Symons, between June 1902 and November 1903. Given its presence in a chapel for the dead, the mosaic scene is also meant to symbolise Purgatory, the cleansing fire that will purify the righteous after death.
Where to find this work of art
Westminster Cathedral, London
Read the relevant passage