Ravenna - 23 June 2016 - Karina Mamalygo
The last Byzantine masterpiece in Ravenna is the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe. The small city, Civitas Classis on the Adriatic coast, was the port in Ravenna which hosted seafarers and travellers. A ship arrived in this very port from Antioch at the end of the First Century, and on it was Saint Apollinaris who was already Christian. He founded the first Christian community in Ravenna becoming its first Bishop and was martyred and buried in the cemetery outside the city walls. In 536, the Archbisop of Ravenna, Ursicino, erected a beautiful Basilica over his tomb, thanks to the money donated by the banker Giuliano Argentario. The church was consecrated in 549 by the Archbishop Massimiano.
The architectural project carries on the design that started with the Sant’Apollinare Nuovo church: a Basilica boasting three naves with the aisles lowered, a smooth façade and walls and it is literally full of windows. On the Northern side, slightly detached from the Basilica, a circular plan belltower was erected with three types of windows: single-lancet, mullioned and three-light.
The interior is bathed in the light that flows from the windows, illuminating the wide central nave, and the narrow aisles that join with the central nave through spacious arches. The columns are sculpted from the refined marble of Proconnesus which seem thinner and lighter thanks to the unusually large capitals and pedestals. The natural veining of the columns follows the undulating rhythm of the arches.
The large apse and the triumphal arch of the Basilica are decorated with mosaics from different eras from the sixth to the eleventh centuries. The sixth century allegory “The Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor”, situated in the vault of the apse, is one of a kind: the Saviour is represented by the image of the cross in a blue sphere, decorated with golden stars. The Pantocrator was placed in the centre in a golden clipeus above which appears God’s blessing hand. The sphere is located beside the Prophets Moses and Elijah, the disciples of Christ, Peter, James and John, represented by innocent lambs in the celestial garden. Further down, there is the wonderful image of Saint Apollinaris in Рaradise. According to research by G. Bovini, The Bishop saint literally illustrated the text of the sermon by Pietro Damiani in memory of Saint Apollinaris: “Qui vivit, ecce ut bonus Pastor suo medio assistit in grege” (“Here he lives, here the good Shepherd among his flock“).
In the 7th century, the compositions “The gift from the Emperor Constantine” and “The sacrifices of Abel, Moses and Abraham” were added. They are both attempting in a way, to follow the previous examples from the Basilica of San Vitale. Between the apse windows there are four standing Bishops saints depicted: Ecclesius, Severus, Ursus and Ursicinus. The beautiful images of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel on the pillars of the triumphal arch, probably date from the 19th century. The scene of the “Twelve angels in front of Jerusalem” and the Pantocrator surrounded by symbols of the Evangelists, date to the 11th century.
The style of the mosaics is reticent of Western taste: narrow, restricted lines with vivid patches of intense colour that compensate in the absence of artistic skill.