San Vitale--page 1 (of 4 pages)

548 C.E.

Page 1: exterior views and choir
Page 2: dome and mosaics of Theodora and retinue and Justinian and retinue
Page 3: mosaics on side walls
Page 4: church interior views and ambulatory; details of floor and capitals

Exterior views

Although the church was founded by Bishop Ecclesius (521-532) while Ravenna was under the control of the Ostrogoths, the actual building probably began after Justinian had reconquered Ravenna and it became the western capital of the Byzantine empire. The church was dedicated by Archbishop Maximianus in 547 to the patron saint of Ravenna, St. Vitale. Although Maximianus' portrait appears with the imperial entourage in the mosaic on the walls of the apse, there's no evidence that Justinian's implied patronage actually led to the construction of the church.

The more colorful exterior shot below was taken in 1983; all of the other photographs--both interior and exterior--were taken in 2006.

The church is a domed octagon with an ambulatory and a woman's gallery. Eight large piers support the squinches that support the dome. The circular central space is varied by the addition of seven galleried niches while the eighth arc becomes instead a rectangular choir ending in an apse. From the exterior the church structure looks rational as these structures rise to the central dome. A long but narrow narthex is at an angle to the main axis. See here for a plan of the church.

The rectangular choir and apse which project from the eastern face

In the conch mosaic an enthroned Christ sits on a celestial globe flanked by archangels.
Christ offers a crown of martyrdom to St. Vitalis and accepts a model of the church from Bishop Ecclesia, its founder. Christ is beardless with short hair dressed in imperial purple. Beneath His feet a fertile landscape and the four rivers of Paradise are depicted.

Decoration surrounding the central scene and the floral landscape beneath the feet of the figures


The city of Jerusalem represented in the spandrel

Bethlehem is represented on the opposite side.

Marble decoration in the lower register of the apse and a view of the vault above the choir

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© 2006 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.