Arian Baptistry
The Arian Baptistry in Ravenna, Italy was erected by Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great between the end of the 5th century and the beginning of the sixth century. It is thus contemporary with the Basilica of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo. In 565, after the condemnation of the Arian sect, this small octagonal brick structure was converted into a Catholic oratory named Santa Maria. Orthodox monks added a monastery during the period of the Exarchate of Ravenna and further dedicated the structure to Saint Maria in Cosmedin. Around the year 1700, the structure passed into private hands, and in 1914 it was acquired by the Italian government. The Allied bombardment of World War II helped clear away other structures which had encroached on it from all sides, enabling researchers to view the details of its exterior for the first time. As with other monuments in Ravenna, the original floor is now some 2.3 meters underground. The Baptistry is octagonal in shape; inside are four niches and a dome with mosaics, depicting the baptism of Jesus by Saint John the Baptist. Jesus is shown beardless and naked, half-submerged in the Jordan. John the Baptist is wearing a leopard skin. On the left stands a pagan god in the guise of a white-haired, old man in a green cloak, holding a leather bag. He is the personification of the river Jordan. Above, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove sprays lustral water from its beak. Below, a procession of the Apostles, led in separate directions by Saint Peter and Saint Paul circle the dome, meeting at a throne with a jeweled crucifix resting on a purple cushion. It took the artists several years to complete these mosaics, as can be clearly seen from the different colors of the stones used to depict the grass at the feet of the apostles. The entire composition is remarkably similar to that of the Orthodox Baptistry of Neon. The walls are bare, but were not always so. During archaeological investigations, some 170 kilograms of tessera were found on the floor. The Arian Baptistry is located next to the Church of Spirito Santo, also built by Theodoric and originally named Hagia Anastasis (Holy Resurrection). This was an Arian cathedral, and it was re-consecrated as the Catholic cathedral of Saint Teodoro (soldier and martyr of Amasea in Porto) in 526. Little remains of the original church after its reconstruction in 1543; some historians speculate that the original mosaics were already lost over a thousand years earlier during its Catholic reconstruction due to Arian themes. The Baptistry is one of the eight structures in Ravenna registered as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.