Ravenna
Ravenna

Ravenna

Leaving Florence – I got to the train station quite early for my 10 am train so did some people watching in the frenzied Firenze train station. I sat down in the waiting room and noticed the man next to me was jabbering away. I hoped he had a hidden blue-tooth somewhere but fear he didn’t. If he was actually talking to someone else they weren’t saying anything because it was non-stop him. I wish I knew what he was saying. It must have been funny because he laughed and laughed. When an old man came around begging, Talking Man gave him 5 euros while the rest of us gave him nothing. After about 20 minutes he strapped his guitar on his back and went to catch his train.

As I watched the crowd, I noticed Chunky Man with a backpack. Two Roma (Gypsy?) women, black hair in braids which clung to their heads and long skirts, entered the area and he started in on them, their conversation looking quite intense. Then the women left. Chunky Man continued hanging around looking for people to “help”. It’s quite common for people to help you at the ticket machines and then put their hands out for money. I noticed Chunky Man looking all smiles as he escorted some poor guy somewhere. When he left, one of the Roma women came back in and made the rounds begging. Train stations! I had that line from a Sarah McLaughlin song stuck in my head – “vultures and thieves at my back”. It’s amazing what you see when you sit still while everyone is whirling around you.

A train change in Bologna and onto Ravenna.

A late entry into the itinerary, Ravenna was an oasis of calm. Perhaps it seemed quiet because I arrived on Easter Sunday. It is smaller and at the end of the rail line. There were very few cars on my walk to the hotel because the centre of town is pedestrian-only. Oh and bicyclists, watch out for them, especially the tottering ones with babies strapped on the front. Nobody wears helmets, not even the bambinos. The streets seem wider. I think that’s partly because of Nazi bombing at the end of WWII. Ravenna was liberated by Canadians (yes Kathy G. there is military history here for your Bob).

Ravenna street and hotel
Ravenna street and hotel

Mostly there are mosaics in Ravenna, ancient ones in ancient churches, dating from the 5th and 6th centuries AD. A little history lesson is necessary here but it makes the mosaics more interesting. This lesson comes via Rick, my erstwhile companion, because it is something I didn’t know since my Christianity history knowledge is not as extensive as my Roman. Rick says “As you wonder at the beauty of Ravenna’s mosaics you’re also witnessing an epic clash between two different interpretations of Christianity.”

Quick version – Around AD 320, Christian priest Arius preached that Jesus was created by God the Father starting a debate about whether God was a single entity or three entities. This prompted Emperor Constantine to convene the Council of Nicea in AD 325 where it was determined that God was a trinity, three-in-one not three separate. This made Arius a heretic. BUT Constantine’s son was an Arian and sent missionaries north to convert the Goths.

Fast forward to the fall of Rome in the 5th century and Goths taking over, including Ravenna in AD 476. They decorated their churches with Arian mosaics. Then in AD 540 Byzantine Emperor Justinian, a trinitarian, drove out the Goths and erased almost anything Arian. Almost but not quite.

That’s enough names and dates. Here they are, your many moments of mosaics:

Basilica di San Vitale Mosaics

This church has the best mosaics. Anywhere else the floor would have been considered incredible and you wouldn’t be able to walk on it but here – walk away . . .

Basilica di San Vitale Floor Mosaic
Basilica di San Vitale Floor Mosaic
Basilica di San Vitale Floor Mosaic
Basilica di San Vitale Floor Mosaic
Basilica di San Vitale Floor Mosaic
Basilica di San Vitale Floor Mosaic

. . . as you stare up to the walls and ceiling with your mouth agape.

San Vitale Beardless Jesus
Beardless Jesus

There was a transition sometime during the 5th or 6th century from portraying Jesus without a beard to portraying with a beard. Not sure what that was about but this church had both.

San Vitale Jesus with a beard
Jesus with a beard
Emperor Justinian, church leaders and military
Emperor Justinian, church leaders and military
San Vitale Justinian's Wife Theodora and friends
Justinian’s Wife Theodora and friends

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

Galla Placidia was an emperor’s wife who had been in Ravenna at some point but died and was buried in Rome, not in this mausoleum.

Ancient symbol of Christ
Ancient symbol of Christ
Floral mosaic
Floral mosaic
St. Lawrence about to get a roasting
St. Lawrence about to get a roasting

Neonian Baptistry

Meander detail
Meander detail
Empty chairs waiting for judgement day
Empty chairs waiting for judgement day
Dancing Apostles
Dancing Apostles

Basilica di Sant’ Apollinaire Nuova

Emperor Justinian
Emperor Justinian
Where Arian mosaics were erased and curtains were put up instead
Where Arian mosaics were erased and curtains put up instead

Arian Baptistry

This was the only place where Arian mosaics weren’t erased. We might not think this mosaic of beardless Jesus being baptized is wrong but the trinitarians felt it portrayed Jesus as too human and was disrespectful. The dove is spraying him with holy water with John the Baptist on the right and an old man representing the River Jordan on the left.

An Arian representation of Jesus being baptized

An Arian representation of Jesus being baptized

There were a few more places in Ravenna with mosaics but these were the best.

 

6 Comments

  1. Adele McLean

    Nice! Thanks, Margo. Yes, isn’t people watching fun, interesting and everything in between! I never let anyone except the train people help out at the machines. I’m too suspicious. Take care and thanks for sharing. ‘sister’ Adele

    1. They actually tell you on the train machines to only let official people help you. The first day I was in Rome and had been traveling forever I gave some guy 50 cents for helping me with the subway machine just because I actually did appreciate the help at that point with my brain being frazzled. And he wasn’t aggressive or obnoxious.

  2. Hi Margo, I loved your description of Talking Man, Chunky Man and the Roma women. Such a great little glimpse into a segment of humanity! The mosaics are unbelievable. I can’t imagine the time and patience involved in creating these.

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