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Mausoleum of Galla Placidia2019-04-11T16:46:12+00:00

Presentation

The Mausoleum and the basilica of San Vitale are allies and rivals at the same time: San Vitale comforts visitors who upon exiting Galla Placidia continue to yearn the beauty just beheld, and appears to invite them not to dispair because the best is yet to come. Galla Placidia comforts visitors who upon exiting San Vitale continue to yearn the beauty just beheld, and appears to invite them not to dispair because the best is yet to come. Who is lying?
As in the case of beauty, both sides are right. You cannot say you “visit” these monuments because the word does not convey the emotion that accompanies the experience of contemplating these gems of antiquity. The two buildings and their mosaics belong to the UNESCO Heritage; and the silence and the great spirituality that envelops the visitor should also belong to UNESCO Heritage.
You do not just enter Galla Placidia and San Vitale. You start by peeking shyly at the entrance, than almost as if youn heard a secret voice saying, ok, you can enter and then after crossing the threshold….you get a glimpse of Heaven.

A treasure chest

Very close to the church of San Vitale, in the shadow of a centennial plain tree that turns golden in Autumn, there is the Mausoleum of Galla PLAcidia. It’s an authenticl treasure chest, whose doorway links heaven and earth.The building’s architectural framework, stark and spartan, is in contrast with the splendour of the interior decorations (made by a refined pictor imaginarius) and aims at evoking the life of a good Christian, a simple unadorned appereance and a rich spiritual life.

Abbot Suger, Plotinus and Heaven

When you enter Galla Placidia is tantamount to entering the gate of the afterlife, it’s almost a prelude to paradise. The same paradise that Abbot Suger (1081-1151), a neoplatonic philosophy scholar, wished for his cathedral to have (he is said to have created the first truly Gothic building, Basilica of Saint Denis). The divine light must be reflected on the precious and smooth floor, in order to anticipate the gold of God, pure spirit, freed from the corruptible matter. As you ascend you are liberated from matter and you experience the light-spirit, mild, ethereal and fleshless.
And yet, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and the Basilica of San Vitale have already been implemented Abbot Suger’s theories six centuries before.

A bit of history

Mausoleum was built in the first half of the 5th century as an oratory at the southern end of a nartex (an entrance portico). The nartex was part of the Holy Cross Church. In 1602 the Church and the Mausoleum were separeted. Mausoleum should have contained the remains of Galla Placidia, the daughter of Teodosius the Great, the sister of Honorius and the mother of Valentinian IIId. Because her son was just six years old, she became regent of the Western Roman Empire. Placidia died in Rome in 450 and was buried in the family vault.

Hence we came in to see the stars

Due to the Latin cross structure of the building, and to the original end use, it is easy to understand the underlying message of the inner decoration: The Triumph of the Cross over death.
The decorations are articulated in multiple scenes to be read from the bottom upwards: in the pendetives of the central dome there are the four zodia or leaving creatures that symbole the Evangelists, the propagators of Logos to the four corners of the world. Saint Mark is represented by a winged lion, saint Luke by a winged ox, saint Matthew by a man, and Saint John by an eagle. In the barrel vaults there is a couple of Apostles rising their hands towards the Crux sancta et invicta in the centre of the dome. It is surrounded by numerous stars, and pointing Eastward because Jesus will come from the east to restore the dead to life.
Two other crosses appears in the decoration: in the Lunette of the Good Shepherd, over the entrance door, and in the opposite one, the lunette of Saint Lawrence. St.Lawrence is depicted while running towards martyrdom, and carrying the Cross which is a symbol of the victory of Faith and Word ( the four gospels in the cabinet).
Another important theme in the decoration is water as symbol of life. Indeed, between every pairs of apostles there are two doves drinking water at a kantharos. And on the eastern and western lunettes there are two pairs of deers drinking at a pond, and acanthus shoots in the background. This image refers to Psalm 42 “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.”

Very close to the church of San Vitale, in the shadow of a centennial plain tree that turns golden in Autumn, there is the Mausoleum of Galla PLAcidia. It’s an authenticl treasure chest, whose doorway links heaven and earth.The building’s architectural framework, stark and spartan, is in contrast with the splendour of the interior decorations (made by a refined pictor imaginarius) and aims at evoking the life of a good Christian, a simple unadorned appereance and a rich spiritual life.

When you enter Galla Placidia is tantamount to entering the gate of the afterlife, it’s almost a prelude to paradise. The same paradise that Abbot Suger (1081-1151), a neoplatonic philosophy scholar, wished for his cathedral to have (he is said to have created the first truly Gothic building, Basilica of Saint Denis). The divine light must be reflected on the precious and smooth floor, in order to anticipate the gold of God, pure spirit, freed from the corruptible matter. As you ascend you are liberated from matter and you experience the light-spirit, mild, ethereal and fleshless.
And yet, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and the Basilica of San Vitale have already been implemented Abbot Suger’s theories six centuries before.

Mausoleum was built in the first half of the 5th century as an oratory at the southern end of a nartex (an entrance portico). The nartex was part of the Holy Cross Church. In 1602 the Church and the Mausoleum were separeted. Mausoleum should have contained the remains of Galla Placidia, the daughter of Teodosius the Great, the sister of Honorius and the mother of Valentinian IIId. Because her son was just six years old, she became regent of the Western Roman Empire. Placidia died in Rome in 450 and was buried in the family vault.

Due to the Latin cross structure of the building, and to the original end use, it is easy to understand the underlying message of the inner decoration: The Triumph of the Cross over death.
The decorations are articulated in multiple scenes to be read from the bottom upwards: in the pendetives of the central dome there are the four zodia or leaving creatures that symbole the Evangelists, the propagators of Logos to the four corners of the world. Saint Mark is represented by a winged lion, saint Luke by a winged ox, saint Matthew by a man, and Saint John by an eagle. In the barrel vaults there is a couple of Apostles rising their hands towards the Crux sancta et invicta in the centre of the dome. It is surrounded by numerous stars, and pointing Eastward because Jesus will come from the east to restore the dead to life.
Two other crosses appears in the decoration: in the Lunette of the Good Shepherd, over the entrance door, and in the opposite one, the lunette of Saint Lawrence. St.Lawrence is depicted while running towards martyrdom, and carrying the Cross which is a symbol of the victory of Faith and Word ( the four gospels in the cabinet).
Another important theme in the decoration is water as symbol of life. Indeed, between every pairs of apostles there are two doves drinking water at a kantharos. And on the eastern and western lunettes there are two pairs of deers drinking at a pond, and acanthus shoots in the background. This image refers to Psalm 42 “As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.”

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