12 September 2008

Ravenna Baptistries

Baptistery of the Arians 490 CE(?)
Baptistery of the Orthodox 450 CE

These are images of the respective tondo from each Baptistery. Baptism was (and remains) a sacred rite in the Christian faith and is rife with symbolism.
The Arian heresy is named after Arius, a Bishop who questioned the nature the of Christ. What he asked was whether Jesus was always God or did he become God during his life? To the pagans, steeped in the tradition of rite of passage, baptism represented that transformation. Various Gothic tribes adopted the Arian belief system, mostly for political reasons. When Arianism took hold in Europe, Catholicism was as tolerated as Catholics tolerated the Arians, that is, barely at all. However, Theodric, despite being of Arian sect, promulgated tolerance. So this structure co-existed with the earlier example.

Note: That is my interpretation of Arianism and it ignores much of the spiritual aspects of the belief system. I am, after all, a meandering Marxist Art Historian.

When the barbarian invasions started, the majority of Roman aristocracy and ruling class abandoned Rome for Ravenna. At a time when all roads lead to Rome, it was not a good thing as the traffic on those roads went by the names of the Huns, the Vandals, and the Visigoths. Conversely, Ravenna was surrounded by marshes and so did not allow a prolonged siege. Funny thing is, even with these invasions, the markets still existed and trade flourished. So in the midst of the barbarian invasions, Bishop Neone was able to raise the money and find the artisans to work in his cathedral (which no longer standing) and the baptistery which is extant. This work dates to 450-460.

1 comment:

Margaret said...

I know that the Arians were heavily persecuted later on, so this is quite interesting. I love the first photo--it looks like the holy spirit (dove) is vomiting on the baptised's head! I guess we all have our own interpretations!