Another day in Ravenna to visit the extraordinary mosaics that are being preserved through the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Following a lecture by Gerald and Lynne, we visited the Arian Baptistry and the Basilica S. Apollinare Nuovo. These structures were built in the 6th C. CE by the Goths, the people who ransacked the Romans and gradually took over as the power of Rome.
Entering the sanctuary of the Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, we could see the brilliant mosaics, dating from Theodoric, the Gothic ruler, early 6th C.E. The mosaics line both sides of the nave. Woman saints lined the left side and the male saints were on the right. Each saint carried a crown, indicating that they were martyred. Surprisingly, each saint was named. Above the register with the saints were panels depicting bible stories. The top register had paintings that showed the life of Christ. On the left side are stories of Jesus encountering people and on the right side there are scenes that depict the stories of the Passion. One of my favourite scenes is of the Magi approaching Mary and the baby. They look like a bit like three pixies but they are wearing the royal garb of the day. They are named and this is the first instance in art that we learn the names of the three wise men.
We then moved over to the Arian Baptisry, which, again, had breathtaking artistry on the ceiling. Our pilgrims were determined to see the ceiling at the best vantage point, which was to lie on the floor. The Baptistry was an eight-sided building, which contained a full immersion baptismal font during the time of use. The Baptistry was a separate building from the church. After several years of instruction a prospective Christian would be fully immersed in the baptismal pool and emerge as a Christian who was then permitted to worship in the sanctuary.
The ceiling of the Baptistry is totally covered in mosaic tile, made from precious stone – rhodite, lapis lazuli and other colourful stones. The figure of Christ is totally nude, with the image of his naked body showing through the shimmering water. There are two other figures, one being John the Baptist, the other is believed to be Neptune. Some scholars believe the Neptune figure to be a personification of the Jordan River. As Lynne said in her lecture, “Beauty is a way to see something about God.” Through these stunning mosaic murals, we have a glimpse into the ancient Christians’ perception of God and Jesus.