Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo

Last updated

New Basilica of Saint Apollinaris
Basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo(in Italian)
Ravenna, sant'apollinare nuovo, ext. 01.JPG
Affiliation Roman Catholic
Province Archdiocese of Ravenna-Cervia
Rite Roman
Year consecrated6th century
LocationRavenna, Italy
Geographic coordinates 44°24′51.4″N12°12′21.4″E / 44.414278°N 12.205944°E / 44.414278; 12.205944 Coordinates: 44°24′51.4″N12°12′21.4″E / 44.414278°N 12.205944°E / 44.414278; 12.205944
Style Early Christian, Byzantine
Official name: Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna
Criteriai, ii, iii, iv
Designated1996 (20th session)
Reference no. 788
State Party Italy
Region Europe and North America

The Basilica of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo is a basilica church in Ravenna, Italy. It was erected by the Ostrogothic king Theodoric the Great as his palace chapel during the first quarter of the 6th century (as attested to in the Liber Pontificalis ). This Arian church was originally dedicated in 504 AD to "Christ the Redeemer". [1]


It was reconsecrated in 561 AD, 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 church, the church was dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, a foe of Arianism. According to legend, Pope Gregory the Great ordered that the mosaics in the church be blackened, as their golden glory distracted worshipers from their prayers. The basilica was renamed again in 856 AD when relics of Saint Apollinaris were transferred from the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe because of the threat posed by frequent raids of pirates from the Adriatic Sea.

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. On some columns, images of arms and hands can be seen, which are parts of figures once representing praying Goths and Theodoric's court, deleted in Byzantine times. [2] Renovations (and alterations) were done to the mosaics in the mid-19th century by Felice Kibel. The present apse is a reconstruction after being damaged during World War I.

Architecture and decoration

View towards the Apses Ravenna Basilica of Sant'Apollinare inside.jpg
View towards the Apses

On the upper band of the left lateral wall are 13 small mosaics, depicting Jesus' 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, Jesus is always depicted as young, beardless man, dressed as a Roman Emperor. On the right, Jesus is depicted with a beard. For the Arians, this emphasized that Jesus 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.

Mosaic on the right side wall of the nave: palace of Theodoric. Remains of hands are still visible in the columns. Ravenna Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo mosaic (2).jpg
Mosaic on the right side wall of the nave: palace of Theodoric. Remains of hands are still visible in the columns.

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 book, in either scroll or codex format, 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 an orthodox church. To the left is a procession of the 22 Virgins of the Byzantine period, led by the Three Magi, moving from the city of Classe towards the group of the Madonna and Child surrounded by four angels. (The Magi in this mosaic are named Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar; this is thought to be the earliest example of these three names being assigned to the Magi in Christian art.) To the right is a similar procession of 26 Martyrs, led by Saint Martin and including Saint Apollinaris, moving from the Palace of Theodoric towards a group representing Christ enthroned amid four angels. This lower band, containing a schematic representation of the Palace of Theoderic 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.

Sant Apollinare Nuovo North Wall Panorama 01.jpg
Panorama of the left lateral wall mosaics
Sant Apollinare Nuovo South Wall Panorama.jpg
Panorama of the right lateral wall mosaics

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". [3]

Some art historians claim that one of the mosaics contains the first depiction of Satan in western art. In the mosaic, a blue angel appears to the left hand side of Jesus behind three goats (mentioned in St Matthew's account of Judgement Day). [4]


  1. A study of the mosaics in the Basilica of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy. [ permanent dead link ], 2010"
  2. "... e scomparvero nella nebbia". Medioevo (149): 40–43. 2009.
  3. UNESCO World Heritage List - Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna: Advisory Body Evaluation.
  4. How the Devil Got His Horns: A Diabolical Tale (BBC)

Related Research Articles

Ravenna city in northern Italy

Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. It was the capital city of the Western Roman Empire from 402 until that empire collapsed in 476. It then served as the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom until it was re-conquered in 540 by the Byzantine Empire. Afterwards, the city formed the centre of the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna until the invasion of the Lombards in 751, after which it became the seat of the Kingdom of the Lombards.

Mosaic image made from an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials

A mosaic is a piece of art or image made from the assembling of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. It is often used in decorative art or as interior decoration. Most mosaics are made of small, flat, roughly square, pieces of stone or glass of different colors, known as tesserae. Some, especially floor mosaics, are made of small rounded pieces of stone and called pebble mosaics.

Byzantine architecture architectural style

Byzantine architecture is the architecture of the Byzantine Empire, or Eastern Roman Empire.

See also: 5th century in architecture, 7th century in architecture and the architecture timeline.

The chlamys was a type of an ancient Greek cloak. By the time of the Byzantine Empire it was, although in a much larger form, part of the state costume of the emperor and high officials. It survived as such until at least the 12th century AD.

<i>Crux gemmata</i> form of cross typical of Early Christian and Early Medieval art

A crux gemmata is a form of cross typical of Early Christian and Early Medieval art, where the cross, or at least its front side, is principally decorated with jewels. In an actual cross, rather than a painted image of one, the reverse side often has engraved images of the Crucifixion of Jesus or other subjects.

Ravenna Baptistery of Neon church

The Baptistery of Neon is a Roman religious building in Ravenna, northeastern Italy. The most ancient monument remaining in the city, it was partly erected on the site of a Roman bath. It is also called the Orthodox Baptistery to distinguish it from the Arian Baptistery constructed on behest of Ostrogothic King Theodoric some 50 years later.

Apollinaris of Ravenna Syrian bishop and saint

Apollinaris of Ravenna is a Syrian saint, whom the Roman Martyrology describes as "a bishop who, according to tradition, while spreading among the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ, led his flock as a good shepherd and honoured the Church of Classis near Ravenna by a glorious martyrdom."

Basilica of SantApollinare in Classe Byzantine-style minor basilica in Ravenna, Italy

The Basilica of Sant' Apollinare in Classe is an important monument of Byzantine art near Ravenna, Italy. When the UNESCO inscribed eight Ravenna sites on the World Heritage List, it cited this basilica as "an outstanding example of the early Christian basilica in its purity and simplicity of its design and use of space and in the sumptuous nature of its decoration".

Arian Baptistery church

The Arian Baptistry in Ravenna, Italy is a Christian baptismal building that was erected by the Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great between the end of the 5th century and the beginning of the 6th century A.D., at the same time as the Basilica of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo.

Basilica of San Vitale minor basilica in Ravenna, Italy

The Basilica of San Vitale is a church in Ravenna, Italy, and one of the most important surviving examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Europe. The Roman Catholic Church has designated the building a "basilica", the honorific title bestowed on church buildings of exceptional historic and ecclesial importance, although it is not of architectural basilica form. It is one of eight Ravenna structures inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Maximianus of Ravenna Bishop of Ravenna

Maximianus of Ravenna, or Maximian was bishop of Ravenna in Italy. Ravenna was then the capital of the Byzantine Empire's territories in Italy, and Maximianus's role may have included secular political functions.

The Archiepiscopal Museum is located in Ravenna, Italy, next to the Baptistry of Neon and behind the Duomo of Ravenna. In the museum relics of early Christian Ravenna are preserved, including fragments of mosaic from the first cathedral church, and the chapel of Sant'Andrea, dating from the Gothic kingdom.

Late Antique and medieval mosaics in Italy

Italy has the richest concentration of Late Antique and medieval mosaics in the world. Although the art style is especially associated with Byzantine art and many Italian mosaics were probably made by imported Greek-speaking artists and craftsmen, there are surprisingly few significant mosaics remaining in the core Byzantine territories. This is especially true before the Byzantine Iconoclasm of the 8th century.

Classe, ancient port of Ravenna ancient port of Ravenna, Italy

Classe was a commercial port located 4 km (2.5 mi) east south east from Ravenna, Italy. It was near the head of the Adriatic coast. For almost five hundred years it was an important strategic military port. When it was not being used as a military port, it was an important commercial port for the imperial capital of Ravenna in the Roman Empire. Classe comes from the Latin word classis, meaning fleet.

Ostrogothic Ravenna refers to the time period in which Ravenna was the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy. Ravenna is a city in Northeastern Italy that served as the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom, which existed between 493 and 553 CE. During that time, Ravenna saw a great renovation, in particular under Theodoric the Great (454–526). During his rule, Ravenna saw many of its finest monuments constructed or renovated, including the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, the Palace of Theoderic, and Mausoleum of Theodoric. Many of these monuments reflected Theodoric's, as well as the Goths as a people, religion of Arian Christianity. Though an Arian Christian himself, Theodoric's rule was a time of religious tolerance in the city of Ravenna. His religious tolerance extended also to forging a balance between the Romans and Goths in Ravenna. Theodoric attempted to model Ravenna as a capital equivalent to that of Rome or Constantinople and as such was a defender of classical antiquity in a western world that saw much of its classical heritage disappearing.

St. Apollinaire may refer to:

Throne of Maximian sculpture

The Throne of Maximian is a throne that was made for Archbishop Maximianus of Ravenna and is now on display at the Archiepiscopal Museum, Ravenna. It is generally agreed that the throne was carved in the Greek East of the Byzantine Empire and shipped to Ravenna, but there has long been scholarly debate over whether it was made in Constantinople or Alexandria.

Palace of Theodoric

The palace of Theodoric was a structure in Ravenna, Italy, that was the residence of the Ostrogothic ruler and king of Italy Theodoric the Great, who was buried in the nearby Mausoleum of Theodoric.

Byzantine Mosaics

Byzantine mosaics are mosaics produced from the 4th to 15th centuries in and under the influence of the Byzantine Empire. Mosaics were some of the most popular and historically significant art forms produced in the empire, and they are still studied extensively by art historians. Although Byzantine mosaics evolved out of earlier Hellenistic and Roman practices and styles, craftspeople within the Byzantine Empire made important technical advances and developed mosaic art into a unique and powerful form of personal and religious expression that exerted significant influence on Islamic art produced in Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates and the Ottoman Empire. In addition, Byzantine mosaics went on to influence artists in the Norman Kingdom of Sicily, in the Republic of Venice, and, carried by the spread of Orthodox Christianity, in Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania and Russia. In the modern era, artists across the world have drawn inspiration from their focus on simplicity and symbolism, as well as their beauty.


Further reading