Remember when our nation’s leaders commissioned a giant fresco painting in the dome of the U.S. Capitol building which depicts George Washington becoming a god and sitting next to other pagan Roman gods like Minerva, Neptune, Vulcan and Mercury?
Yes. It’s true.
America – supposedly a “Christian Nation” – hired an Italian Greek artist in 1865 to paint the inside of the rotunda at the United States Capitol Building. It’s still there today.
Most Americans – and certainly most American Christians – have no idea what it is or what it shows.
The Apotheosis of Washington – literally the “Deification of Washington” which shows the nation’s first president sitting among pagan gods – was painted over an 11 month time span at the end of the Civil War.
Yes, the painting boldly depicts George Washington sitting in the heavens in an exalted manner; or in literal terms, ascending and becoming a god (apotheosis).
WANT TO SEE IT? Click here.
George Washington is allegorically represented as being surrounded by figures from classical mythology. Washington is draped in purple, a royal color, with a rainbow arch at his feet, flanked by the goddess Victoria (draped in green, using a horn) to his left and the Goddess of Liberty to his right.
Surrounding Washington, the two goddesses and the 13 maidens are six scenes lining the perimeter, each representing a national concept allegorically: from directly below Washington in the center and moving clockwise:
The six scenes depict the following:
Freedom, also known as Columbia, is directly below Washington in the personification of War. The scene depicts a woman fighting for liberty with a raised sword, a cape, and a helmet and shield (in the colors of the American flag) trampling figures representing Tyranny and Kingly Power. To Freedom’s left assisting her is a fierce bald eagle (the national bird of the United States) carrying arrows and a thunderbolt (reminiscent of the arrows carried by the eagle in the Great Seal of the United States).
Minerva, the Roman goddess of crafts and wisdom, is portrayed with helmet and spear pointing to an electrical generator creating power stored in batteries next to a printing press, representing great American inventions. American scientists and inventors Benjamin Franklin, Samuel F. B. Morse, and Robert Fulton watch. In the left part of the scene, a teacher demonstrates the use of dividers.
This scene shows Neptune, the Roman sea-god, with trident and crown of seaweed riding in a shell chariot drawn by sea horses. Venus, goddess of love born from the sea, is depicted helping to lay the transatlantic telegraph cable which ran from America to the Telegraph Field in Ireland. In the background is an ironclad warship with smokestacks.
Mercury, the Roman god of commerce, with his winged petasos and sandals and a caduceus, is depicted giving a bag of gold to American Revolutionary War financier Robert Morris. To the left, men move a box on a dolly; on the right, the anchor and sailors lead into “Marine.”
Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and the forge, is depicted standing at an anvil with his foot on a cannon next to a pile of cannonballs. A steam engine is in the background. The man at the forge is thought to represent Charles Thomas, the supervisor of ironwork during the construction of the Capitol dome.
Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, is shown with a wreath of wheat and a cornucopia, a symbol of plenty, while sitting on a McCormick mechanical reaper. The personification of Young America in a liberty cap holds the reins of the horses, while the goddess Flora gathers flowers in the foreground.
Is this the sort of thing any Christian nation would approve of? Can you imagine posting this in your church? Can you imagine Jesus approving of this?
Speaking of which: Where is Jesus in this painting? Where is the One True God? Why are Roman gods and goddesses depicted alongside George Washington as if he were equal to them?
Does this disturb you?
I’d love to know your thoughts about it.
Keith Giles is the author of “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” and is co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour podcast. He lives in Orange, CA with this wife and two sons.