The Paleochristian Sarcophagi of the Basilica of Sant'Apollinaire in Classe

The sixth century basilica of Sant'Apollinaire in Classe, located in Ravenna, Italy, is surely one of the most recognizable churches in the world. The church in question presents us with a classic paleo-Christian model rooted in the tradition of the antique Roman basilica. Amongst the basilica's many stunning features are a nave lined by twenty four marble columns, an open beamed ceiling and, of course, the stunning apse mosaic which depicts the Cross in a starry blue medallion surrounded by the figures Elijah and Moses. Various various lambs, flora and fauna and finally the figure of St. Apollinaris, the first bishop of the area, also form a part of the apse decoration.  

As an interesting aside, the 1472nd anniversary of this basilica's consecration will take place this coming Sunday, May 9th -- the church having been consecrated the same day in the year 549. 

While all of these features receive, understandably, the most attention, another interesting feature can be found lining the walls of the nave sitting between those twenty four marble columns. These are the paleo-Christian sacrophagi. Their respective ages vary and their function is obvious enough, but what is especially of interest in these, aside from their antiquity, is a consideration of the paleo-Christian symbolism that can be found on them.   

Take for example this one with its iChi-rho, two peacocks (symbols of resurrection), and the Alpha and the Omega surrounded by laurels and vines with grape clusters:

Examples such as these show the style and the symbols that were important in paleo-Christian times. Many of these symbols saw renewed interest and use under the influence of the Liturgical Movement of the twentieth century. This paleo-Christian revival was most successful in the domain of stonework and architecture in the earlier half of the twentieth century; it was less successful in the realm of the vestment arts. 

At any rate, do enjoy these further examples of the various sarcophagi of Sant'Apollinaire and do take a moment to look in at the many interesting details found on each of them. 

Palm trees are another common symbol in this context representing victory and eternal life

The use of drapery here beneath a ciborium like structure puts to one's mind the literal veils that would often adorn a ciborium magnum which were drawn shut at the most sacred liturgical moments. 

The symbol of the lamb and here again the palm trees. 

Some of these examples can also bring to light architectural features such as the hanging oil lamps seen between the columns in this particular example. This feature is still visible in places such as the basilica of San Clemente in Rome

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