Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo

The Basilica of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo is a church in Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna (Italy). It was erected by the Arian King Theodoric as his palace chapel, during the first quarter of the 6th century (as attested in the Liber Pontificalis). This Arian church was originally dedicated to Christ the Redeemer.

It was reconsecrated in 561, under the rule of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, under the new name "Sanctus Martinus in Coelo Aureo" (Saint Martin in golden Heaven). Suppressing the Arian cult, the church was dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, the implacable foe of heretics. According to legend, Pope Gregory the Great ordered that the mosaics in the church to be blackened, as their golden glory distracted worshippers from the prayers. The basilica was renamed again in 856, when relics of Saint Apollinare were transferred from the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe because of the threat posed by frequent raids of Adriatic pirates.

Its apse and atrium underwent modernization at various times, beginning in the 6th century with the destruction of mosaics whose themes were too overtly Arian or which expressed the king's glory, but the mosaics of the lateral walls, twenty-four columns with simplified Corinthian capitals, and an ambo are preserved. Renovations (and alterations) were done to the mosiacs in the mid-1800s by Felice Kibel. The present apse is a reconstruction after being damaged during World War I.On the upper band of the left lateral wall are 13 small mosaics, depicting Christ's miracles and parables; and on the right wall are 13 mosaics depicting the Passion and Resurrection. However, the flagellation and crucifixion are lacking. They describe the parts of the Bible that were read aloud in the church during Lent under the rule of Theodoric the Great. On the left, Christ is always depicted as young, beardless man, dressed as a Roman Emperor. On the right, Christ is depicted with a beard. For the Arians, this emphasized that Christ grew older and became a "man of sorrows," as spoken of by the prophet Isaiah. These mosaics are separated by decorative mosaic panels depicting a shell-shaped niche with a tapestry, cross, and two doves. These mosaics were executed by at least two artists. But such an arrangement, just below the ceiling, would have been unthinkable in later Romanesque or Gothic periods.

The next row of mosaics are a scheme of haloed saints, prophets and evangelists, sixteen on each side. The figures are executed in a Hellenistic-Roman tradition and show a certain individuality of expression as compared to the other figures in the basilica. Each individual depicted holds a code, book or scroll and, like many of the other figures throughout the basilica, each of their robes has a mark or symbol in it. These mosaics alternate with windows. They were executed in the time of Theodoric.

The row below contains large mosaics in Byzantine style, lacking any individuality, having all identical expressions. These were executed about 50 years after the time of bishop Agnellus, when the church had already become a Catholic church. To the left is a procession of the 22 Virgins of the Byzantine period, lead by the Three Magi, moving from the city of Classe towards the group of the Madonna and Child surrounded by four angels. To the right is a similar procession of 26 Martyrs, led by Saint Martin and including Saint Apollinare, moving from the Palace of Theodoric towards a group representing Christ enthroned amid four angels. This lower band, containing a schematic representation of the Palatium on the right wall and the port of Classe with three ships on the left wall, gives us a certain idea of the architecture in Ravenna during the time of Theodoric. In another part of the church there is a rough mosaic containing the portrait of the Emperor Justinian.

The entrance of the church is preceded by a marble portico built in the 16th century. Next to the church, on the right side of the portico, stands a round bell tower dating from the 9th or 10th century.

When the UNESCO inscribed the church on the World Heritage List, its experts pointed out that "both the exterior and interior of the basilica graphically illustrate the fusion between the western and eastern styles characteristic of the late 5th to early 6th century. This is one of the most important buildings from the period of crucial cultural significance in European religious art". []



External links

* [ Adrian Fletcher's Paradoxplace Ravenna Pages] (photos)

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