The Baptistery of Neon: The Orthodox Baptistery
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The Baptistery of Neon: The Orthodox Baptistery

The Neonian Bapistery also known as the Orthodox Baptistery is an octagonal baptistery built in the 5th century and the oldest monument in Ravenna that houses some of the city's most beautiful Byzantine mosaics.


The Neonian Bapistery also known as the Orthodox Baptistery is an octagonal baptistery built in the 5th century and the oldest monument in Ravenna that houses some of the city's most beautiful Byzantine mosaics.

The Baptistery of Neon is the most ancient structure remaining in Ravenna, and was partly constructed on the site of a Roman bath. It is also called the Orthodox Baptistery to distinguish it from the Arian Baptistery constructed on the command of King Theodoric some 50 years later. The octagonal brick structure was constructed by Bishop Ursus around 400 AD, as part of his great Basilica which was destroyed in 1734. The building was finished by Bishop Neon at the end of the 5th century, at which time the mosaic decorations were added to the dome. It is from this bishop that the Battistero Neonoano gets its name. The original flooring is now some 3 feet underground, so the proper structure of the building can no longer be visible. The octagonal design of the building has symbolical: it represents the seven days of the week plus the Day of the Resurrection and Eternal Life.

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The baptistery with its octagonal figure was made of brick and topped with a dome made of hallow tubes to lessen weight. The building as visible today looks like it has sunk below the ground but actually the street level has risen almost 3 feet since it was first built. A 10th century round Romanesque belfry of the cathedral stood besides the baptistery.

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In the center cupola of the baptistery is a magnificent mosaic laid place in a concentric circles like a huge wheel. The key medallion features the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. As a whole, the right arm of John the Baptist, the dove and Christ’s head are all 18th century restorations. A Roman artisan named Felice Kibel, who was charged with restoring the mosaics and went overboard with creative license in the 19th century, is responsible for the addition of the dish that St. John was using to pour water during baptism.

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The majority of the glorious dome mosaic remains outstandingly intact in its original form, given its venerable age. The lower right side of the central baptism scene is the personified Jordan River as an old man from the water, holding a perennial grass on one hand and offering a garment to Christ on the other.

This setting is surrounded by a large inner ring featuring the Twelve Apostles, who carry crowns in veiled hands and walking slowly like in procession. The men each specified by name in the mosaic, are depicted in striking blue and sparkling gold.

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The outer ring of the mosaic is divided into eight sections with alternating void thrones representing the divinity of Christ and altars with Gospel books which are open. The empty thrones are flanked by celestial gardens while the altars are laid with empty chairs to represent the placed reserved in heaven for the said Elect.

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Golden acanthus leaves on blue and red backgrounds and stucco relief of biblical scenes and some prophets which date from the same period as the dome mosaics (451-75) decorated the arches supporting the dome.

The underside of the arches has crosses and trees in golden scope while in the wall spandrels below are gold vines with prophets on a deep blue colored background. The arches atop the niches have golden mosaic inscriptions on blue scope with red borders decorated with abstract designs.

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The inlaid marble designs on the walls including green marble and porphyry disks are preserved from the ancient Roman bath. A Byzantine altar and a Roman marble vase is visible in the side niches and the large octagonal baptismal font dates back between 12th and 13th century. The status of the Neonian Baptistery is now a museum.


Image Source – Orthodox Baptistery Photo Gallery

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Comments (5)

Very impressive to see these old buildings still standing.

As usual, excellent and well illustrated presentation

Thanks Brenda and Sir Abdel.

Your article certainly honors these skilled artists who have built these wonderful places.

Thanks Roberta.