Sunday, May 13, 2018

Orthodox or Arian? Who baptised it better?

As before mentioned, our friend the Goth king Theodoric subscribed to the heretical (according to the mainstream Church) version of Christianity called Arianism. Arianism rejected the standard view of Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit all being one and the same, as famously illustrated by St Patrick and his shamrock. Instead, Jesus was the Son of God, a divine being sent to Earth to save mankind by God the father, but is not himself God.

By the time of Theodoric, Arianism had already been declared a heresy for 150 years or so, but was still popular particularly amongst Germanic tribes such as the Goths, Visigoths, and Vandals. The Arian Baptistery was built at the end of the 5th century, but it had only about another 50 years to survive, before Ravenna was conquered by the Byzantines, and the Baptistery converted into a Catholic church.

Unfortunately, only the ceiling mosaics in this tiny building survive. This shows the baptism of Christ, surrounded by the twelve apostles. It looks similar to the central decoration of the Orthodox or Neonian Baptistery (below), which was built slightly earlier. One key difference is that the Arian Christ is shown as quite boyish-looking, which may be a reflection of the Arian doctrine of his lesser status. Also Arian Jesus looks a bit more like he has a bird vomiting on his head. The figure on Christ's left is a personification of the River Jordan. Overall, the Neonian baptistery, which retains much more of its decoration, is more impressive, but I prefer the simpler ceiling decoration here.

The Orthodox/Neonian Baptistery is Ravenna's oldest monument, converted from a Roman bathhouse in around 400 AD, with its mosaics completed under its namesake, Bishop Neone, in the second half of the 5th century. 

The building now sits about 10 feet down from street level, not because of subsidence, but because of the rising of the surrounding ground

The dome mosaic is similar to, but more elaborate than the Arian Baptistery. It features Christ, John the Baptist and the River Jordan surrounded by the apostles, who are in turn surrounded by depictions of empty thrones, showing Christ's divinity, empty chairs reserved for the Elect in heaven, Gospel books on altars and celestial gardens. The apostles circle round in two directions, with Saints Peter and Paul meeting in the middle below Christ

Below the mosaics is a layer of stucco depictions of the prophets. I liked the stunned mullet look of the guy on the left

The much later baptismal font, 12-13th century. The beautiful inlaid marble and porphyry on the wall niche behind dates back to the days of the Roman bathhouse

The decoration on the wall arches is contemporary with the ceiling


  1. That vomiting bird must be a lark, "nest"-ce pas?

  2. Interesting to see the personification of the River Jordan. The Whanganui River has the legal status of a person!


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