The Left Wall of the Nave in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo

6th century (Original mosaics ca. 504, Orthodox revisions ca. 561, some restorations done in mid-19th century)
Church of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

This is the left wall of the nave. The three bands of mosaics here are paired with those on the right wall.

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:

A 3rd-century fresco from the Hypogeum of the Aurelii in Rome, showing Roman senators in their striped togas. (Source: Dr. Dorothy King,

The stripes, but not the togas, are also seen on the bishop and deacons in a mosaic of the same century in nearby San Vitale, where it is the Emperor who is distinguished by a toga of purple.

A mosaic of the Emperor Justinian (reigned 527-565), with Bishop Maximian and two deacons on our right. The bishop and deacons wear white dalmatics, each with two shoulder-to-hem purple stripes as in the togas of Roman senators. The Emperor alone wears a toga entirely of purple. In the nave mosaics at Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, it is Jesus who alone wears an entirely purple toga. (Photographed at the church by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.)

In the mosaics of the Passion on the opposite wall, the garb is the same. (example).

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 for 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:

  1. City of Classe
  2. Agnes
  3. Pelagia and Euphemia
  4. Magi
  5. Virgin and Child.

Detail photographs of the Life of Christ, from left to right (i.e. moving toward the apse):

  1. The Paralytic at Bethany
  2. The Gerasene Demoniac
  3. The Paralytic at Capernaum
  4. The Sheep and the Goats
  5. The Widow's Mite
  6. The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican
  7. The Resurrection of Lazarus
  8. The Woman at the Well
  9. The Woman with the Flow of Blood
  10. Jesus Cures the Blind Men
  11. The Calling of Peter and Andrew
  12. The Loaves and the Fishes
  13. The Miracle at Cana

View this image in full resolution.
View the corresponding mosaics on the opposite wall.

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

1 Deliyannis 153 et pass.