The Arian Baptistry in Ravenna, Italy

The Arian Baptistry in Ravenna, Italy


Ceiling of the Arian Baptistry

Last week I blogged about the fantastic Basilica of San Vitale, in Ravenna, Italy. That’s only one of several fine examples of Late Antique art in the city and only one of eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites there.

Another is the Arian Baptistry, built by the Ostrogothic king Theodoric the Great at the end of the 5th century. Theodoric was an Arian Christian, following a creed that believed that Christ was distinct from, and subordinate to, God the Father. This is because Christ did not always exist but was created by God the Father. More orthodox Christians at the time believed that Christ was both human and divine but was one and equal to God the Father. Theodoric had both types of Christians in his kingdom and to avoid trouble, kept them in separate neighborhoods with separate houses of worship


Christ is shown being baptized, flanked by John the Baptist (right)
and a very pagan looking personification of the River Jordan (left).
The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove pours water from its beak onto Christ’s head

The baptistry was part of the Hagia Anastasis (Holy Resurrection) Arian cathedral built near Theodoric’s palace. Little of this church survives today other than the baptistry.

The octagonal baptistry has a splendid ceiling showing the baptism of Christ ringed by a procession of apostles, who look like Roman senators, facing a throne with a crucifix resting on a cushion of imperial purple. The background of gold tesserae, typical in mosaics of this period, makes the figures stand out and almost overwhelms the eye.

We’re lucky to have this building, which has lasted through 1500 years of war, earthquakes, and the steady hand of time.


The procession of apostles


The cross enthroned, flanked by Peter and Paul


Like many buildings of the period,
an unassuming exterior hides some stunning works of art

Images copyright Sean McLachlan.

Sean McLachlan is the author of the historical fantasy novel A Fine Likeness, set in Civil War Missouri, and several other titles. His novel The Last Hotel Room, about the Syrian refugee crisis, is on sale for $1 through the Amazon US Kindle store for all of February. Find out more about him on his blog and Amazon author’s page.

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
James McGlothlin

Thanks for this post. I appreciate all your posts and enjoy the wonderful pics.

I don’t see anything in the iconography pictured here that shows that this was an Arian baptistry. Is the conclusion based off the fact that it was built by the Ostrogoths and we know they were primarily Arian Christians?

Sarah Avery

I love Ravenna. Those mosaics are some of my favorite memories from the years when my family was stationed in Germany.

James McGlothlin


Would love your thoughts, please comment.x