The Procession of Martyrs at Sant'Apollinare Nuovo: Christ
Church of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna
Christ sits among his angels receiving the procession of martyrs,
who offer their golden crowns.
The procession mosaic is clearly influenced by Revelation chapter 4,
where God sits enthroned among "four living creatures" and receives
the "golden crowns" of 24 ancients in white who sing "Thou art
worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory, and honour, and power."
The "glory" in their song corresponds to the words Ego sum rex
gloriae ("I am the King of Glory") in the book that was in
Christ's left hand before the mosaic was restored in the nineteenth
century.1 The four
"creatures" have been rendered here not as the odd beasts in
Revelation 4 but as four angels carrying the wands that in images of
the Emperor signify his authority, as do Christ's purple robe and of
course the throne itself.2
Originally an Arian palace chapel, the church was rededicated in 561
as an Orthodox basilica under the patronage of St. Martin of Tours,
who was not a martyr but a celebrated opponent of Arianism.3 Thus the Orthodox
revisions to the mosaics have placed him at the head of the
procession and given him a purple cloak to distinguish him from the
martyrs in white behind. The cloak could also be a reminder of the
story of Martin's giving half his cloak to a poor beggar who was
actually Christ himself. (See my page
on St. Martin.)
The first of these martyrs is St.
Clement, the fourth Bishop of Rome. At the time the Bishop of
Rome was considered head of the church in Italy.4
In the mosaics along the left
wall of the nave the panel directly facing this one shows the Virgin and Child
enthroned correspondingly receiving the gifts of the Magi.
Also see this detail
of Christ on his throne, this
detail of St. Clement, and the entire right wall of the nave.
This image in full resolution
More of Christ in Majesty
at the church by Richard Stracke
1Deliyannis, 158, cites a
16th-century description for the open book.
3Deliyannis 168. "Basilica
of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo," Wikipedia (retrieved
Exarchate of Ravenna," Wikipedia (retrieved