Travel Diary 52: RAVENNA, Sant' Appolinare in Classe

by Agnes Felber November. 20, 2013 3921 views

These iron statues of buffaloes in front of the ancient basilica reminded me of several animal statues in the streets of Dallas, Texas.

The exterior has a large façade with two simple uprights and one mullioned window with three openings. The narthex and building to the right of the entry are later additions, as is the fine 9th century round bell tower with mullioned windows.

The imposing brick structure was erected at the beginning of 6th century by order of Bishop Ursicinus, using money from the Greek banker Iulianus Argentarius. It was certainly located next to a Christian cemetery, and quite possibly on top of a pre-existing pagan one, as some of the ancient tombstones were re-used in its construction.
Sant'Apollinare in Classe was consecrated on May 9, 549 by Bishop Maximian and dedicated to Saint Apollinaris, first bishop of Ravenna and Classe. The Basilica is thus contemporary with the Basilica of San Vitale of Ravenna. In 856, the relics of Saint Apollinaris were transferred from the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe to the Basilica of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna.

The Basilica's walls are lined by numerous sarcophagi from different centuries. They attest the changes of style from the 5th to the 8th centuries: from reliefs with human figures of the Roman sarcophagi, to Byzantine symbolism, to the increasing abstraction and simplification of these symbologies.

An ancient altar in the mid of the nave covers the place of the saint's martyrdom. The church ends with a polygonal apse, sided by two chapels with apses.
The nave contains 24 columns of Greek marble. The carved capitals of the columns depict acanthus leaves, but unlike most such carvings the leaves appear twisted as if being buffeted by the wind. The faded frescos depict some of the archbishops of Ravenna, and date to the 18th century. The lateral walls are bare, but were certainly once covered with gorgeous mosaics. These were likely demolished by the Venetians in 1449, although they left the mosaic decoration in the apse and on the triumphal arch, the church's most striking features.

The upper section of the triumphal arch depicts, inside a medallion, Christ. At the sides, within a sea of clouds, are the winged symbols of the four Evangelists: the Eagle (John), the Winged Man (Matthew), the Lion (Mark), the Calf (Luke). The lower section has, at its two edges, the walls showing precious gems from which twelve lambs (symbols of the Twelve Apostles) exit. The sides of the arch show two palms which, in the Bible's symbolism, represent justice; under them are the archangels Michael and Gabriel, with the bust of St. Matthew and another unidentified saint.

At the sides of the apse are two 7th century panels: the left one, which has been much restored, portrays the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IV granting privileges to an envoy of the Ravenna's archbishop. In the right panel are Abraham, Abel and Melchisedec around an altar, on which they offer a sacrifice to God.

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Mikkal Noptek 6 years, 6 months ago

Wow !! What a wonderful mosaic

6 years, 6 months ago Edited
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