Such architectural fittings have been found abundantly in Spain, marking the burial sites of individuals. The plaque would sit within a niche, covering the remains of the deceased within a communal tomb. The communal complex was known as a columbarium, for its similarity in style to a dovecote. The term comes from ‘columba’, meaning dove in Latin. The decorative elements of such plaques varied, from geometric motifs, to Christian and Jewish emblems. Columbaria existed for both the Christian and Jewish communities, who preferred to bury their deceased in contrast to the pagan practise of cremation. Christian symbols often seen include the christogram, xp, the first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek, as well as the letters A and Ω, alpha and omega. These emblems stand for the personal redemption of the deceased, the triumph over death. Jewish symbols seen differed slightly in that they represented national redemption. As we see here, the menorah, which was a common emblem, was an implements of the destroyed temple. Its inclusion on this plaque alluded to the hope that the temple would someday be restored.
To discover more about Byzantine Christianity, please visit our relevant blog post: The Byzantine Empire, Art and Christianity.