I’d never heard of them but according to the Gospel of Luke in the Bible — no, I’m not preaching so just bear with me here — there was a group of 70 (or 72, depending on the translation) second string disciples that Christ sent out to heal the sick and evangelize. And according to Catholic legend, among these 70/72 was Apollinare, who would later be appointed the first bishop of Ravenna by St. Peter himself.
Except, says the Catholic Encyclopedia, the part about Apollinare wasn’t true. It was made up by a later, 7th century bishop, Mauro, to make being Bishop of Ravenna seem more important. He had political ambitions and he like saying: oh yes, my job was created by St. Peter! The Catholic Encyclopedia does throw Apollinare a bone, though, and says that he did exist, probably in the late 2nd century, but there’s no historical evidence that he did. The 12th bishop of Ravenna, named Severus (and you thought JK Rowling made it up), is the first one who can be historically authenticated.
Real or not, Apollinare is the patron saint of Ravenna and has two UNESCO World Heritage site basilicas dedicated to him in that city. We made a brief stop at one of them, the Basilica of St. Apollinare in Classe, on our way from Venice to Assisi. Classe is the suburb of Ravenna where the church is located and “in Classe” distinguishes it from the Basilica of St. Apollinare Nuovo in center city Ravenna.
We were there around lunch and there was a restaurant with facilities next to the basilica, so I think it was a convenient two-fer.
These oxen were standing out in front of the basilica. I did a quick search online but couldn’t find anything about them.
Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402 until 476 and it’s a treasure trove of early Christian art and architecture. The Basilica of St. Apollinare in Classe, consecrated in 549, is one of 13 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ravenna, chosen because they represent the best of 5th and 6th century religious art and architecture. “The mosaics” in particular, “are among the best surviving examples of this form of art in Europe and have added significance due to the blending of western and eastern motifs and techniques.”
The mosaics above the altar were done between the 6th and 12th centuries. The main attraction is the mosaic of St. Apollinare with his flock of 12 sheep. It’s the earliest known example of someone other than Christ being the focus of the apse decoration.
There are 24 swirled marble columns. The medallion frescoes above them, painted in the 18th century, are of the Bishops of Ravenna. I wish I knew which one was Mauro the Liar.
A row of sarcophagi line the walls of the basilica, dating from the 5th to 8th centuries. Most of them contain the bishops of Ravenna.
The floors were once all mosaic but now there’s just a tiny bit of that floor left. People leave coins on the original mosaic floors and I haven’t been able to find out why. Perhaps, like the Trevi Fountain, it’s to guarantee a return to Italy.
Of the dozen or so churches we saw on the Italy trip, the Basilica of St. Apollinare in Classe was — asthetically — my favorite. It was classic and unfussy and the spring-like colors are refreshing. And who doesn’t love all those sheep?