The uppermost band presents 13 events in the life of Christ
alternating with decorative panels. The narrative panels portray a
youthful, beardless Jesus, always in a purple toga, and the
apostles are invariably shown in white togas, each with two
shoulder-to-hem purple stripes. This is the garb of Roman senators
(example). The stripes, but not
the togas, are also seen on the bishop and deacons in a
contemporary mosaic in nearby San Vitale (image). In the mosaics of the Passion on
the opposite wall, the garb is the same but Jesus has no beard.
In the middle band are 16 prophets, evangelists, and other
saints. Below that, 22 virgin saints process from the city of
Classe toward the throne of the Virgin and Child, led by the three
Magi. The throne is flanked by four angels.
The church was built as an Arian cathedral by Theodoric the Great
in 504. But Ravenna was subsequently conquered by the Orthodox
Byzantines, and in 561 the church was rededicated tor Orthodox
worship. At about that time the original mosaics were revised.
Scholars assume that the revisers wished to remove anything
suggesting Arianism and to buttress Orthodox beliefs.1
Detail photographs of the procession: City of Classe, Agnes, Pelagia and Euphemia, Magi, Virgin and Child
Detail photographs of the Life of Christ, from left to right
(i.e. moving toward the apse):