The scene depicted in the mosaic of the cupola, or dome of the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe is set against a background of gold. The gold, in keeping with the iconographic tradition, represents heaven. While the lower wall of the mosaic can be seen as an earthly, historical representation—that of Our Lady of Guadalupe appearing to St. Juan Diego—the upper part shows us a celestial scene. There the saints dwell in the radiant glory of heaven.
The central feature of the cupola is a tree. This tree represents the Blessed Virgin Mary. Instead of replicating the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which is the heart of the lower part of the chapel, I decided to use a figurative representation. Our Lady is the root of Jesse from which the Savior flowered. She is shown here fully grown, blooming with roses. The blue highlights on the trunk of the tree are meant to signifying it as a Marian symbol. On the branches of the tree are perched seven doves. These doves have a variety of meanings. They recall the words of the Bridegroom to his Bride—who is a type of the Virgin Mary—in the Song of Songs: Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. It was a dove that carried news to Noah of dry land, safety from the flood waters, by bearing an olive branch. Our Lady likewise heralded the salvation of the world by bearing the Son of God in her womb. The number seven signifies the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit—wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord—which the Mother of God had to the fullest degree. The waters flow copiously from the base of the tree to show the abundance of grace that Mary lavishes on her children.
To the right and left of the tree are the figures of Sts. Augustine and Norbert. Our order was founded by St. Norbert, who took the rule of St. Augustine as the charter of our religious observance. These two saints wear tilmas filled with roses, which are gifts both to and from the Virgin of Guadalupe. In the tilma of St. Norbert is an olive branch, which is a symbol of his identity as a peacemaker. St. Augustine holds a flaming heart, the emblem of his ardent charity.
Several details of this mosaic I drew from many of the classic apsidal domes of the Italian basilicas. The scrolling branches of the central tree was inspired by the marvelous mosaic of San Clemente in Rome. The smaller trees on the far ends of the mosaic I derived from the Sicilian duomo of Monreale. Even minor elements such as the jagged edge of the riverbank I appropriated from the scenes of many of the dome mosaics of the Roman churches.
In designing this section of the Guadalupe chapel, I sought to maintain the traditional composition of the classical Western mosaic iconography found in church apses, as well as incorporate themes relating to Our Lady of Guadalupe, while inevitably asserting my own style. I pray that it will be an occasion for lifting hearts and minds to God and an inspiration for the development and preservation of sacred art.