Church of Sant'Apollinare in Classe
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Italy
Description: Located in Classe (Ravenna's port until the coastline shifted), Sant'Apollinare in Classe was built after Justinian I (r. 527–65) conquered northeastern Italy from the Ostrogoths. The mosaic of the apse arch features Christ within a medallion, flanked by the winged symbols of the evangelists: the eagle (John), the angel (Matthew), the lion (Mark), and the ox (Luke). In the register below, twelve sheep emerge from two walled cities (Bethlehem and Jerusalem, a symbol of gentiles and Jews united in the Church). This is an early example of the apostles depicted as sheep, a complement to the common imagery of Christ as the Good Shepherd. At the top of the apse mosaic is the hand of god gesturing down toward a large medallion filled with golden stars and a large, jeweled cross with Christ at its center. There are several witnesses around this cross, corresponding to the narrative of Christ's transfiguration in the Gospels: Moses and Elijah from the Hebrew Bible, and three sheep representing Christ's disciples John, Peter, and James. To either side of the cross, still within the medallion, are the letters alpha and omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. These letters recall Christ's declaration in the Apocalypse that he is the beginning and the end of everything. St. Apollinaris, the patron saint of the church, is the orant figure standing below (meaning that his arms are outstretched in prayer). He has his own flock, another twelve sheep, six to either side of him. A living bishop would have stood and gestured below this composition, and those present would have become yet another flock.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 3
Repository and Online Resources: • Visit the UNESCO World Heritage page for the early Christian monuments of Ravenna. • Watch a video on the mosaic iconography posted at Smarthistory (with narration from Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker).
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons
Tags: Access to the sacred, Status and identity, Animals, Christian, Gemstones and jewelry, Saints, Late Antique, Western European, Mediterranean