The Procession of Martyrs at Sant'Apollinare Nuovo: Detail: Christ enthroned with angels

6th century
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.

Garden Arabis (Arabis caucasica). Photo and information: Wikipedia.

The white flowers flanking the base of the throne are garden arabis (Arabis caucasica), which is native to southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean. They also flank the base of the throne of the Virgin and Child in the mosaic that faces this one across the nave, and they appear as decorative elements on each end of a paleo-Christian sarcophagus in Ravenna's suburb of Classe.

View this image in full resolution.
Also see this detail of Christ on his throne, this detail of St. Clement, and the entire right wall of the nave.
Read more about images of Christ in Majesty, St. Martin of Tours, and St. Clement.
Go to the Christian Iconography home page.

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

1 Deliyannis, 158, cites a 16th-century description for the open book.
2 Ibid. 159.
3 Deliyannis 168. "Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo," Wikipedia (retrieved 2013-09-28).
4 "Ravenna: Exarchate of Ravenna," Wikipedia (retrieved 2013-09-28).