© Photos: ROBERTO ALBORGHETTI
Some weeks ago I had the pleasure to visit again the enchanting Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe a few kilometers from the beautiful Ravenna. Sant’Apollinare is one of the most important monuments of Byzantine art. 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”.
It was erected at the beginning of 6th century by order of Bishop Ursicinus. It was certainly located next to a Christian cemetery, and quite possibly on top of a pre-existing pagan one. The Basilica was consecrated on May 9, 549 by Bishop Maximian and dedicated to Saint Apollinaris, first bishop of Ravenna and Classe. The exterior has a large façade with two simple uprights and one mullioned window with three openings. The narthex and building to the right of the entry are later additions. The round bell tower with mullioned windows was built in the IX Century.
The church has a nave and two aisles. An ancient altar in the mid of the nave covers the place of the saint’s martyrdom. The church ends with a polygonal apse, sided by two chapels with apses. In the naive we admire 24 columns of Greek marble with carved capitals. The faded frescos portraits some of the archbishops of Ravenna.
The mosaic decorations in the apse and on the triumphal arch are the most striking features of Sant’Apollinare in Classe. Inside a medallion, in the upper section of the triumphal arch, we see Christ. At the sides, the winged symbols of the four Evangelists: the Eagle (John), the Winged Man (Matthew), the Lion (Mark), the Calf (Luke). The lower section shows precious gems from which twelve lambs (symbols of the Twelve Apostles) exit. The sides of the arch show two palms (they represent justice), the archangels Michael and Gabriel, the bust of St. Matthew and another unidentified saint. The decoration of the apse date to the 6th century. The Basilica’s walls are lined by numerous sarcophagi from different centuries.