New Liturgical Movement: The Basilica of St Apollinaris in Classe (Part 2): Ancient Christian Sarcophagi

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Last week, on the feast of St Apollinaris of Ravenna, we published Nicola’s photos of the basilica dedicated to him in nearby Classe. This church also houses a collection of very well-preserved early Christian sarcophagi, remains of the period (5th-8th) century when Ravenna was both an important see in northern Italy, and the seat of Byzantium’s power in the homeland of the Roman Empire. Unlike the sarcophagi seen in similar collections in places like Rome and Arles, there are no Biblical stories depicted here; the focus is rather on symbols and decorations. A scene of the type known as the “traditio legis – the handing down of the law,” in which Christ appears in the midst of the Apostles and gives them a scroll, which represents the new law that displaces the law of Moses. This motif was intended to answer a minority among Christians who still felt themselves very close to their Jewish roots, and insisted that all the members of the Church, whether Jewish or gentile in origin, are obliged to keep the Mosaic law. This example is unusual in that Christ is giving the scroll only to St Paul, while St Peter has his keys and cross, but does not receive the scroll. This may reflect the fact that the bishops of Ravenna under Byzantine rule were wont to assert an excessive independence from the see of St Peter. Nothing specifically identifies the other Apostles; the remaining six appear on the side panels.

New Liturgical Movement: The Basilica of St Apollinaris in Classe (Part 2): Ancient Christian Sarcophagi

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