The Apse Mosaic at San Vitale: Detail, Christ in Majesty

Christ sits on a globe representing the universe. Except for a bit of shadow at his feet he does not seem to be relying on the globe for support. He wears a toga with two vertical stripes, as do the archangels beside him. The marking on the hem is seen on a number of garments in mosaics of the period. It may be the first Greek letter in Ζωη, "life," a fitting complement to the figure's youthful appearance. With his left hand, he holds a scroll with seven seals, an allusion to Revelation 5, where only "the Lamb" is found worthy to open the "book written within and without, sealed with seven seals."

Revelation 5:12 is especially relevant to this mosaic: "The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and benediction." The "Lamb" is of course Christ, but a martyr participates in his sacrifice and is similarly worthy. Thus, with his other hand Christ gives a martyr's crown to St. Vitalis. (The topic of Christ awarding golden crowns to martyrs can be seen in this mosaic of the same century.)

To receive the crown, Vitalis has covered his hands with a cloth, as in Byzantine court ceremonies. He wears boots to show he was a soldier, whereas Christ and his angels wear sandals.

The figure on the right wears shoes and a pallium that identifies him as a bishop. He is not a saint but Ecclesius, the bishop who built the basilica. With covered hands, he offers his new church to Christ.

The angels carry narrow sceptres in the hands closer to Christ. With their other hands they present Vitalis and Ecclesius to Christ. They could possibly be identified as Michael and Gabriel, who sometimes flank important figures in images of this period.

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Photographed at the basilica by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.