The Church of St Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna

The church dedicated to the martyr saint Apollinare

The basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe was consecrated in 549, nine years after the army of the Eastern emperor, Justinian, had conquered Ravenna.

It is located in the town of Classe, a few miles south of Ravenna. In this area stood the harbor in late antiquity. The church is built outside the town of Classe, on a cemetery area, on the site where, according to local tradition, St Apollinaris, the founding martyr and first bishop of the local Christian community, is buried. The main document, which deals with the story of St Apollinaris, is written in the 7th century by the Church of Ravenna. According to this writing, St Apollinaris, who lived in the 1st century and was of Syriac origin, became a disciple of St Peter and followed him to Italy: it would have been the very first of the apostles who entrusted him with the task of evangelizing the communities in this area.

The church of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, with three naves marked by twenty-four Greek marble columns, is one of the grandest early Christian buildings preserved. This place, despite spoliation and remodeling, remains a magnificent example of the meticulous planning that made these places metaphysical spaces of extraordinary power.

What makes it one of Ravenna’s most visited monuments today is the luminous mosaic decorating its apse, where the center depicts the saint to whom the church is dedicated, Apollinaris, welcoming his community by spreading his arms wide, while at the same time spreading the Gospel message.

Above the bishop is depicted the Transfiguration of Jesus, an episode in the life of Jesus Christ described in the three synoptic gospels. It is the moment when Christ shows his divine nature to three of his disciples: Peter, John, and James.

The heavenly garden, which serves as the mosaic’s backdrop, is composed of a number of plants and trees that partly have a precise symbolic meaning, and partly represent the thick forests, surrounding the city

 

In the amount of symbols, which connotes this mosaic, the powerful Christological message is raised, enclosed within the circular frame containing the cross.

The heavenly garden, which serves as the mosaic’s backdrop, is composed of a number of plants and trees that partly have a precise symbolic meaning, and partly represent the thick forests, surrounding the city.

In the center of the nave is a small altar, which originally preserved the relics of St Apollinaris, now partly in the high altar. It is also known in the story of St Romuald, a Ravenna saint who lived between the 10th and 11th centuries and founded the Camaldolese religious order. St. Pier Damiani in the Vita Romualdi relates that St Romuald, while praying here, is said to have seen the ghost of the patron saint come out from under the altar and wander into the church. On the front is the inscription commemorating the circumstance.

The church of Sant’Apollinare in Classe also contains a significant collection of late antique sarcophagi of some interest. In fact, the church in Classe, for a period, was destined to house the burials of the archbishops of Ravenna.

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