Early Christian Baptisteries in Ravenna

There are two marvelous baptisteries in Ravenna included in the World Heritage List. The Orthodox, or Neonian Baptistery, is one of the oldest monuments in the city and is decorated with glorious Byzantine mosaics. The baptistery was converted from an old Roman bath under Bishop Ursus (c. 400) and still keeps some fragments of ancient decoration. The building was finished by Bishop Neone (451-75), when mosaics were added to the dome. In former times the baptistery made part of an orthodox cathedral which was built in the early 5th century. Only high round Romanesque campanile of the 10th century has remained from the cathedral.

The baptistery has three mosaic registers, laid out in concentric circles. The central medallion depicts the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Jordan is personified by the old man who stands half rising from the water and holds a reed and a garment for Christ in his hands. It is amusing, how artfully and realistic the mosaic depicts the transparent and fluid water. The lower part of Christ’s body is clearly visible under the running water. I like very much a very unusual detail, the Dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit above the head of Christ. It looks like the Dove benedicts the bowl with water which John the Baptist holds over Christ’s head.

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