The city of Ravenna has endured as a shimmering monument to late antique art and civilization—the imperial tombs, the palace churches, the oratorios (prayer chapels) and the baptisteries all glisten with the mosaic makers’ art.
One of the most interesting buildings—and perhaps the one with the most intriguing story—in this northern Italian city is the palace church known today as Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, dedicated to Christ the Redeemer. It was built in the 490s1 to serve the spiritual and political needs of the great Ostrogoth king Theodoric (454–526 C.E.), who brought Arian Christianity to Ravenna in 493 when he conquered the city. During these years, it seemed that Arian Christianity—what today we call the Arian heresy—would dominate Western imperial circles.
Here in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo,2 king and court worshiped and, in that strange late antique world in which rule was seen to be appointed by God, celebrated themselves as rulers chosen by God.