Friday, July 30, 2021

The Chapel of St Peter Chrysologus in Ravenna

On the calendar of the post-Conciliar rite, today is the feast of St Peter Chrysologus, who was bishop of Ravenna from around 433 until his death in 450; in 1729, Pope Benedict XIII made him the 13th Doctor of the Church. Within the palace of the archbishops of Ravenna is a chapel dedicated to him jointly with St Andrew the Apostle; he is traditionally said to have built it, but it is actually the work of his namesake Peter II, who held the see from 494-519. The chapel is quite small, a cruciform space with a small atrium leading into it. The upper part of both the chapel and the atrium is covered with some very beautiful mosaic work, although it has been heavily restored several times, and some parts are completely lost. (Photos by Nicola de’ Grandi.)
In the apse, the Cross on a starry background. As noted recently, the Cross was generally shown empty in this period to emphasize the Resurrection, which took place after Christ’s body had been removed from it. Above it we see Peter II’s monogram on a background of vines.
Following an older convention, which at the end of the 5th century had already become rare in the most important center of western Christianity, Rome, Christ is shown young and beardless, to indicate that He is a different person from God the Father. (The heresy that God the Son IS God the Father under a different guise, known as “Patripassianism”, was the great scare-heresy of the pre-Nicene period, and Arianism, which made the Son a creation of the Father, was the over-reaction to it.) He wears the purple of the Roman Emperors, and has a decorated halo, as signs of His divinity. To the right are the Apostles Peter, Andrew, and Philip; to the left, Paul, James and John
In the center of the vault, four angels support a stylized XP monogram; between them are the symbols of the four Evangelists, which are shown below in greater detail.
In the bay to the right of the apse, the Ascension of Christ, by local painter Luca Longhi (1507-80), made to replace a ruined mosaic. On the arch above, the XP symbol, with an alpha and an omega hanging from it; to the left, St Cassian of Imola (Peter Chrysologus’ native place, a bit less than 30 miles to the west of Ravenna), a martyr of the mid-4th century, St Chrysogonus, who was martyred at Aquileia (about 150 miles to the north along the coast of the upper Adriatic), and St Chysanthus, martyred at Rome with his wife Daria, ca. 285. To the right, Ss Polycarp, Cosmas and Damian. In the vault above, the eagle of St John.
In the bay to the left of the apse, a Pietà, also made by Longhi, also to replace a ruined mosaic. On the arch above, the same XP symbol with the alpha and omega; to the left, Ss Euphemia, Eugenia and Cecilia; to the right, Ss Daria (the wife of the Chrysanthus mentioned above), Perpetua and Felicity.
The 4th Ecumenical Council, which condemned the Monophysite heresy in 451, was held in a basilica dedicated to St Euphemia in Chalcedon, where she had been martyred in the persecution of Diocletian. The inventor of this heresy, one Eutyches, the archimandrite of a large monastery in Constantinople, had prevously been condemned in a synod, and written to Peter Chrysologus for support. The Saint replied that he should accept the judgment of the synod, and the faith professed by the bishop of Rome; this letter is incorporated into the acts of the Council of Chalcedon.
In the bay opposite the apse, a modern inscription attests that the space was formerly occupied by a mosaic image of St Peter, “bishop of the holy church of Ravenna, founder of this monastery of St Andrew the Apostle.” On the arch, an image of Christ which mirrors that of the arch above the apse; to the left, the Apostles James the Lesser, Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Cananean; to the right, Thomas, Matthew and Bartholomew; on the vault above, the symbol of St Mark.
On the vault, the symbols of St Matthew
St John
St Mark
and St Luke.
At the time of the chapel’s construction, Italy was ruled by the Arian Ostrogoths under their King Theoderic, who lived in Ravenna for much of his reign, and ultimately died there. This image placed inside and above the door (heavily restored) is generally understood as a profession of the orthodox Nicene faith held by the bishops of Ravenna. Christ wears the clothing of a soldier, and carries a cross on His shoulder. The Gospel book in His hands has the words of John 14, 6, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” The lion and serpent on which He trods, in reference to the words of Psalm 90, 13, “thou shalt trample under foot the lion and the dragon”, appear as symbols of the Arian heresy. The same iconography occurs in another of the Christian monuments of Ravenna, known as the orthodox (i.e. non-Arian) baptistery, which we will show in a future post.
The ceiling of the entry way into the chapel.
Early 20th-century reproductions in mosaic of the original dedicatory inscriptions, written in dactylic hexamaters, which had fallen off the walls.
A section of the original decorative marble pavement.

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