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Basilica of Saint’Apollinare Nuovo2019-04-11T16:46:05+00:00

Presentation

The visitor certainly doesn’t expect to find such beauty and magnificence all in one town, all in one Basilica, whose appearance is plain and unpretentious (retreated in the street, as if its shyness makes it move backwards). But there it is: Saint’Apollinare Nuovo is hiding (so difficult to be seen by tourists without asking for directions), it moves behind a flowerbed but, to those who succeed in finding it, to those who walk through the door, it will show its real soul, as a chest which holds precious gems and gold.

A jewel, the only one in the world

The Basilica of Saint’Apollinare Nuovo – not to be confused with Saint’Apollinare in Classe – is in the heart of the old town of Ravenna, it is located in via di Roma and it is one of tourists’ favourite monuments. Through the adjacent cloister, you enter the church and you are amazed by a jewel unique in the world. Even though mosaics in the apse are lost (since 7th-8th cent.), the visitor entering Saint’Apollinare Nuovo gets breathless: sidewalls are covered by sparkling tesserae, tilted in many different ways in order to create vibrant light.

A bit of history

Saint’Apollinare Nuovo was built (493-526) by Theoderic, king of the Goths, as the palatine basilica.
Despite its former arian cult, the inner mosaic decoration shows two implementation phases: around 561, after Goths were run out of town, the church was converted to Catholic orthodoxy (Justinian’s Edict) and consecrated to Tours’ Bishop, with the name of St. Martin in “Gold Heaven” – because of its shining gold lacunar ceiling. Hence, the damnatio memoriae of Theodoric’s court, removed from Palatium and replaced with curtains; still today parts of remaining mosaics (hands) show the removal.
The basilica was consecrated to “Saint’Apollinare” only in the half of 9th century, when the saint’s relics were transfered here from Classe as their former location had become too unsafe because of frequent pirates’ raids; the basilica was therefore named “Nuovo” to distinguish it from the one outside the town.

Gold litanies

Scenes of Christ’s life are recorded in the upper mosaic band, separated by ornamental umbraculi as a regal crowning of the prophets underneath; scenes on the left wall show thirteen miracles or parables and those on the opposite wall, show stories about Passion or events which follow the Son’s death. The Saviour wears always a gold and purple pallium and a crossed halo. The image of Christ is also perfectly consistent with “ideological perspective” standards – popular until Middle Ages, – that is, direct proportion of characters’ size with their sanctity. Christ-puer, is represented as young and beardless on the left senes while bearded Christ as a symbol of experience and human pain, characterizes the dramatic scenes on the right side. Iconography of Young Christ has Eastern origin but bearded Christ in the Passion gets his meaning in weaster culture: Romans used to grow a beard as a sign of mourning.
The lower band attracts mostly our attention through the sumptuous image of the civitas Classis (depicted according to the Roman pattern, the so-called “bird’s-eye view”), the image of Palatium and the two series of masculine saints and feminine saints one opposite to the other (made after 561) two-dimensional and de-fleshed silhouettes who mark the rithm by their paratactic posture, as a symbol of their spiritual nature; their faces lacks iconographic features and they are represented according to byzantine isotypy, the same admired by modern artists as the painter Piero della Francesca. The two series of martyrs and virgins advance rhythmically with an almost musical pace towards Christ seated on his throne and opposite, towards Theotòkos Virgin (God’s Mother), also in majesty, with the three Magi kneeling before her in a proskynesis, a typical ritual at bizantine courts, usually reserved for emperors.

The Basilica of Saint’Apollinare Nuovo – not to be confused with Saint’Apollinare in Classe – is in the heart of the old town of Ravenna, it is located in via di Roma and it is one of tourists’ favourite monuments. Through the adjacent cloister, you enter the church and you are amazed by a jewel unique in the world. Even though mosaics in the apse are lost (since 7th-8th cent.), the visitor entering Saint’Apollinare Nuovo gets breathless: sidewalls are covered by sparkling tesserae, tilted in many different ways in order to create vibrant light.

Saint’Apollinare Nuovo was built (493-526) by Theoderic, king of the Goths, as the palatine basilica.
Despite its former arian cult, the inner mosaic decoration shows two implementation phases: around 561, after Goths were run out of town, the church was converted to Catholic orthodoxy (Justinian’s Edict) and consecrated to Tours’ Bishop, with the name of St. Martin in “Gold Heaven” – because of its shining gold lacunar ceiling. Hence, the damnatio memoriae of Theodoric’s court, removed from Palatium and replaced with curtains; still today parts of remaining mosaics (hands) show the removal.
The basilica was consecrated to “Saint’Apollinare” only in the half of 9th century, when the saint’s relics were transfered here from Classe as their former location had become too unsafe because of frequent pirates’ raids; the basilica was therefore named “Nuovo” to distinguish it from the one outside the town.

Scenes of Christ’s life are recorded in the upper mosaic band, separated by ornamental umbraculi as a regal crowning of the prophets underneath; scenes on the left wall show thirteen miracles or parables and those on the opposite wall, show stories about Passion or events which follow the Son’s death. The Saviour wears always a gold and purple pallium and a crossed halo. The image of Christ is also perfectly consistent with “ideological perspective” standards – popular until Middle Ages, – that is, direct proportion of characters’ size with their sanctity. Christ-puer, is represented as young and beardless on the left senes while bearded Christ as a symbol of experience and human pain, characterizes the dramatic scenes on the right side. Iconography of Young Christ has Eastern origin but bearded Christ in the Passion gets his meaning in weaster culture: Romans used to grow a beard as a sign of mourning.
The lower band attracts mostly our attention through the sumptuous image of the civitas Classis (depicted according to the Roman pattern, the so-called “bird’s-eye view”), the image of Palatium and the two series of masculine saints and feminine saints one opposite to the other (made after 561) two-dimensional and de-fleshed silhouettes who mark the rithm by their paratactic posture, as a symbol of their spiritual nature; their faces lacks iconographic features and they are represented according to byzantine isotypy, the same admired by modern artists as the painter Piero della Francesca. The two series of martyrs and virgins advance rhythmically with an almost musical pace towards Christ seated on his throne and opposite, towards Theotòkos Virgin (God’s Mother), also in majesty, with the three Magi kneeling before her in a proskynesis, a typical ritual at bizantine courts, usually reserved for emperors.

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