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Sant'Apollinare in Classe

ca. 500
Ravenna, Italy

Site Description

Sant’Apollinare in Classe is a Basilica-style church located at the seaport of Ravenna, Classis. The church is dedicated to the first bishop of Ravenna, Saint Apollinaris, who is depicted in the center of the apse mosaic and is said to be buried at the site. The church consists of 24 Greek marble columns lining the nave. Originally, mosaics would have adorned the spaces above these columns, but they have since been replaced by 18th-century frescoes depicting various archbishops of Ravenna.

The main focal point of the church is the large apse mosaic framed by a triumphal arch. Although the mosaic appears cohesive, many sections are from different phases of work, with the mosaics of the semidome and four bishops between the windows dating back to the original composition dedicated in 549. At the top of the arch, a central image of Jesus can be seen, surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists: the eagle (John) and man (Matthew) to the left, and the lion (Mark) and calf (Luke) to the right. Directly below this, depictions of the holy cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem can be seen. From each city, a line of lambs emerges, ascending a mountain towards Jesus and the evangelists in heaven.

Inside the arch, the apse mosaic reveals the main focal point: a large gold cross with a small depiction of Jesus in the center. Surrounding the cross is a circle of blue tiles with 99 gold stars and the Greek letters alpha and omega on either side, symbolizing Christ as the beginning and end. Moving outward from the cross, the rest of the apse depicts the story of the transfiguration. Above, the hand of God reaches down towards Christ, with Moses and Elijah appearing on either side as Christ reveals his divine nature to his apostles Peter, James, and John below, represented as three sheep in a field.

The sheep and field in the apse symbolize the transition from the heavenly to the earthly realms. Amidst native birds, rocks, and plants, there is a large depiction of Saint Apollinaris, shown frontally with hands raised in prayer and his name on either side. Surrounding Apollinaris towards the bottom are twelve sheep, representing the twelve apostles.

As the apse mosaic transitions towards the windows, it includes depictions of the four bishops who founded the main basilicas in Ravenna: Urscinus, Ursus, Severus, and Ecclesius, each holding books in their hands. Additionally, a panel showing bishop Reparatus and Constantine IV was added on the left, imitating the Justinian panel at San Vitale, while the right side features a version of the Melchisedek panel also from San Vitale for balance.


Credit & Support

Model Details

Number of Photographs

Year Photographed

Camera Type



Sony a7rIV

Kaden Levitt '24
Anastasia Garvey '24
Eric Hupe

Artist Biography

Mozilla Hubs Scene

Nira Scene

Model Downloads (coming soon)

Teaching Resources

Selected Bibliography

Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris, "Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna (Italy)," in Smarthistory, December 10, 2015,

Lowden, John. Early Christian & Byzantine Art. Phaidon, 2012.

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