Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe

Published date: 09/07/2024
  • Location: San Vito, Apulia, Italy
The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe is one of the best-preserved and most important early Christian churches in Italy. Like the church of San Vitale, it was erected with funds provided by the wealthy patron Julianus Argentarius following the commission of Bishop Ursicinus, and it was consecrated in 549 by the archbishop Maximian. Its construction took place during a period of major political upheavals in Europe: the fall of the western half of the Roman Empire in 476; the recapture of Italy from the rule of the occupying Goth tribes, carried out by the Eastern emperor Justinian between 535 and 552; and the Lombard invasion in 568. At that time, Ravenna was the capital town of the peninsula and therefore one of the main cities of Italy.

When it was built, the church stood close to the sea, at the Roman harbour of Classe. Because of subsequent marsh-draining, however, the waters retreated, and this marvelous building now stands proudly in the countryside of Ravenna. The church seems to have been built on the site of an important cemetery, attested by the imposing sarcophagi that are now displayed along the aisles of the church. It is dedicated to Sant’Apollinare, who was the first bishop of Ravenna and who was the first to convert the people of that area to Christianity. His relics were transported from this church to Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna in 856.

The church, which is constructed in brick, like the remarkable round bell tower next to it that is believed to date back to the 10th century, is divided into three naves by elegant columns of Greek marble. It also boasts impressive early medieval mosaics in the presbytery and in the apse, where the figure of Sant’Apollinare is set out on a mosaic depicting a delicate green meadow. These remarkable mosaics were made by unknown Byzantine artists and are of inestimable value. (Monica Corteletti)

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