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Ravenna, A Study by Edward Hutton

Part 4 out of 5

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given the title of S. Apollinare by the archbishop John, who asserted
that he had brought hither the relics of the first archbishop of the
see from S. Apollinare in Classe when that church was threatened by
the Saracens.

The oldest name by which the church was generally known, however, is
that of _Coelum Aureum_. Agnellus in his life of the archbishop S.
Agnellus says, speaking of the Catholic consecration of the church,
"Then the most blessed Agnellus the bishop reconciled within this city
the church of S. Martin Confessor, which Theodoric the king founded,
and which was called _Coelum Aureum_...." And he goes on to say that
it was found from an inscription that "King Theodoric made this church
from its foundations in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ."[1] It got
the name of _Coelum Aureum_ perhaps from its glorious roof of gold.
This, however, was destroyed in 1611.

[Footnote 1: Cf. also Agnellus, _Liber Pontificalis_, Vita Theodori,
cap. n.]

The church has indeed suffered very much in the course of the fourteen
hundred years of its existence, and yet in many ways it is the best
preserved church in Ravenna. In the sixteenth century, for instance,
it was fast sinking into ruin; the floor of the church and the bases
of the columns were then more than a metre and a half beneath the
level of the soil, and it was decided that something must be done if
the building was to be saved. In 1514 this work was undertaken; the
columns were raised and the arches cut and thus the church and its
great mosaics were preserved. It is, however, still sinking; the new
pavement of the sixteenth century has disappeared, and that of 1873
which was brought from the suppressed church of S. Niccolo covers the
bases of the columns.

If S. Apollinare Nuovo had been allowed to fall, nothing that we
possess in the world would have compensated us for its loss. For not
only have we here a beautiful interior very largely of the sixth
century, but the great mosaics of the nave which cover the walls above
the arcade under the windows are, I suppose, at once the largest and
the most remarkable works of that time which ever existed. They are
also of an extraordinary and exceptional beauty. They represent upon
both sides, through the whole length of the nave, as it were two long
processions of saints. Upon the Epistle side are the martyrs issuing
out of the city of Ravenna to lay their crowns at the feet of Our Lord
on His throne, guarded by four angels. Upon the Gospel side are the
virgins headed by the three kings, who offer gifts to Our Lord in his
Mother's arms enthroned between four angels. There is nothing in
Christendom to compare with these mosaics. They are unique and, as I
like to think, in their wonderful significance are the key to a
mystery that has for long remained unsolved. For these long
processions of saints, representing that great crowd of witnesses of
which S. Paul speaks, stand there above the arcade and under the
clerestory where in a Gothic church the triforium is set. But the
triforium is the one inexplicable and seemingly useless feature of a
Gothic building. It seems to us, in our ignorance of the mind of the
Middle Age, of what it took for granted, to be there simply for the
sake of beauty, to have no use at all. But what if this church in
Ravenna, the work indeed of a very different school and time, but
springing out of the same spiritual tradition, should hold the key?
What if the triforium of a Gothic church should have been built as it
were for a great crowd of witnesses--the invisible witnesses of the
Everlasting Sacrifice, the sacrifice of Calvary, the sacrifice of the
Mass? It is not only in the presence of the living, devout or half
indifferent, that that great sacrifice is offered through the world,
yesterday, to-day, and for ever, but be sure in the midst of the
chivalry of heaven, a multitude that no man can number, none the less
real because invisible, among whom one day we too are to be numbered.
Not for the living only, but for the whole Church men offer that
sacrifice _pro redemptione animarum suarum, pro spe salutis et
incolumitatis suae. Memento etiam Domine famulorum famularumque tuarum
qui nos praecesserunt cum signo fidei et dormiunt in somno pacis_....
Here in S. Apollinare at any rate for ever they await the renewal of
that moment.

Those marvellous figures that appear in ghostly procession upon the
walls of S. Apollinare here in Ravenna are really indescribable, they
must be seen if the lovely significance of their beauty is to be
understood. What can one say of them?

Upon the Epistle side we see as it were a procession of twenty-five
figures all in white with palms in the right hands and crowns in their
left. They are the martyrs SS. Clement, Sixtus, Laurence, Cyprian,
Paul, Vitalis, Gervasius, Protasius, Hippolytus, Cornelius, Cassianus,
John, Ursinus, Namor, Felix, Apollinaris, Demetrius, Polycarp,
Vincent, Pancras, Chrysogonus, Protus, Jovenius, and Sabinus, and
their names are written in a long line over them; each is aureoled,
and each upon his white robe bears a letter the significance of which
is hidden from us. This procession comes out of the city of Ravenna
which is magnificently represented, occupying indeed a fifth of the
whole length of the mosaic.

In the foreground is the palace of Theodoric, the whole facade of it,
the triple arched peristyle in the midst flanked on either side by two
triple arched loggias, each having a second story of five arches. In
the spandrils of the arches are figures of Victories, and of old in
the tympanum we might have seen Theodoric on horseback. Within, the
arches are hung with curtains. On the extreme right is the great gate
of the palace in the wall of the city, flanked on either side by
towers. In the lunette over the gateway we see three small figures of
Christ with the cross between two Apostles, and within the gate, I
think, a great figure, seated. Over the facade of the palace we look
into the city and see four churches, which Dr. Ricci suggests may be,
on the right, this very church with its baptistery, now destroyed,
together with the church of S. Teodoro (now S. Spirito) and the Arian
baptistery: they are altogether Byzantine in type. Out of this city
come the martyrs; there are twenty-five of them all in white, as I
have said, and they are led by S. Martin Confessor, who bears of
course no palm, is robed in purple, and bears his crown in both his
hands. He leads the procession along a way strewn with flowers to the
throne where Christ sits guarded by four angels.

Above this great scene, between the windows, above each of which there
is an ornamental mosaic, we see sixteen figures of Prophets or perhaps
Fathers. Over these are twenty-seven compartments each filled with a
mosaic. Those over the heads of the prophets are, except in the case
of him who stands, at each end, last but one, filled with a sort of
recessed throne in mosaic, over which in each case are set two doors.
But the eleven compartments over the windows and the two over the two
figures last but one at either end are filled with thirteen scenes
from the New Testament, beginning on the left as follows: (1) The Last
Supper, (2) The Agony in the Garden, (3) The Kiss of Judas, (4) Christ
taken, (5) Christ before the High Priest, (6) Christ before Herod, (7)
The Denial of Peter, (8) Judas trying to restore the money to the
priests, (9) Christ before Pilate, (10) The Via Crucis, (n) The Maries
at the Sepulchre, (12) The way to Emmaus, (13) The Incredulity of S.

Turning now to the Gospel side of the church, we find a similar
procession over the arcade, but of twenty-one virgin martyrs bearing
palms and crowns richly dressed with precious ornaments and jewels.
They bear the following names: SS. Pelagia, Agatha, Eulalia, Cecilia,
Lucia, Crispina, Valeria, Vincentia, Agnes with her lamb, Perpetua,
Felicitas, Justina, Anastasia, Daria, Paulina, Victoria, Anatolia,
Christina, Savona, Eugenia. They issue out of the towered gate of the
Castello of Classis, whose wall stretches before us to the great sea
gate through which we look upon the port with three ships on the
water, one of which is sailing in or out. Within the castello over the
wall of it we see buildings of a distinctly Roman type.

The procession of virgins which issues forth from this castello is led
by S Eufemia, who does not bear a palm, but carries her crown in her
two hands. Before her go the three Magi, Balthassar, Melchior, and
Caspar, bearing their gold, frankincense, and myrrh under the palms of
the long way, guided by the star to where Madonna sits enthroned with
her little Son between four angels.

Above between the windows, as on the Epistle side, are sixteen figures
in mosaic of the Prophets or Fathers; and over them again, as before,
are thirteen scenes from the life of Our Lord: (1) The Healing of the
cripple at Capernaum, (2) The Herd of Swine, (3) The Healing of the
paralytic who was let down in a bed to Jesus, (4) The Parable of the
sheep and the goats, (5) The Widow's mite, (6) The Pharisee and the
Publican, (7) The Raising of Lazarus, (8) The Woman of Samaria at the
well, (9) The Healing of the woman with an issue of blood, (10) The
Healing of the two blind men, (11) The Miraculous draught of fishes,
(12) The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, (13) The Water turned into

And what are we to say of these marvellous things? This first of all,
that for the most part they are not of the time of Theodoric, but
rather of that S. Agnellus who consecrated the church for Catholic
use. This is not to deny that there were always in the church mosaics
occupying the place which these we see fill; on the contrary. But the
processions of the martyrs and of the virgins with the three Magi are
certainly Catholic works, and of the middle or end of the sixth
century; they obviously took the place of certain mosaics perhaps full
of Arian doctrines which then stood there. On the other hand, the
castello of Classis, the Christ enthroned with angels, the Virgin
enthroned with angels, the Prophets or Fathers, and the scenes of Our
Lord's life and teaching, above them, are of Theodoric's time. The
city of Ravenna I am perhaps alone in attributing to the later period.
Dr. Ricci--and he is of course an almost infallible
authority--attributes it to the time of Theodoric. It does not seem to
me to be so. All this, however, must be understood to refer to such
parts of these mosaics as have not suffered restoration, which,
however, has not often been as drastic as that which has befallen the
figures of the Magi; of which the upper parts are new, as are the
figures of the two outer angels.

We have here then under our eyes the two schools of mosaics, that of
Rome and that of Constantinople. It is easy to see that the Roman
work, the original work that is, is more classical and realistic than
the rich and glorious figures of the processions; but it is not
decoratively so successful. Indeed I know of nothing anywhere that is
more artistically, dramatically, and as it were liturgically
satisfying than these long processions on either side of S. Apollinare

Little else remains in the church worth notice except an ancient ambo
under the arcade in the nave and the chapel of the Relics at the top
of the left aisle. This was largely built of ancient fragments in the
sixteenth century. We see there two beautiful alabaster columns with
capitals of serpentine with two small columns of verde antico also
with ancient capitals. The screen is Byzantine. The walls are
ornamented with bas-reliefs and paintings, but above all these we see
there a marvellous portrait in mosaic of the emperor Justinian as an
old man, unhappily restored in 1863. The altar is ancient and above it
is a marble coffer with Renaissance ornaments, upheld by four columns
of porphyry, having two Byzantine and two Roman capitals. On the
Epistle side of the altar here is a marble chair--a Roman thing.

From that splendid and well-preserved church we pass to that of the
Spirito Santo. Unhappily this once glorious building has suffered as
much as any church left to us in Ravenna, for it was almost entirely
rebuilt in 1543 when the portico we see was added to it, and in 1627
was restored and adorned, as it was in 1854 and 1896. That it was
founded and built by the Goths and reconciled later for Catholic use
appears in Agnellus' life of the archbishop S. Agnellus, where we read
that of old the Arian Episcopio stood near by, together with a bath
and a _monastero_ of S. Apollinare. What the _monastero_ may have been
we do not know, but the bath was perhaps the Arian baptistery known as
S. Maria in Cosmedin.

The church of the Spirito Santo was not in Arian times known under
that dedication, but was called of S. Theodore. It owes the pleasing
portico it now possesses, as I have said, to the sixteenth century,
but that portico is itself largely constructed of old materials, being
upheld by eight antique columns, of which six are of Greek marble.
These originally supported the baldacchino over the high altar.
Within, the church is divided into three naves by fourteen columns,
thirteen of which are of bigio antico, and the other, the last on the
Epistle side towards the altar, of a rare and curious marble known as
verde sanguigno. The capitals are of Theodoric's time, late Roman

Very little remains in the church that is of any interest to us. In
the sacristy, however, we may see in the present lavabo some fragments
of the ancient ciborio. And in the nave at the western end on the
Gospel side is an ancient sarcophagus of Greek marble which was carved
in the Renaissance and in the seventeenth century became the sepulchre
of one of the Pasolini family. In the first chapel on this side of the
church is the ancient _ambone_ removed from the nave in the sixteenth
century, and in the second are two columns of pavonazzetto marble.

Something better is to be had in the utterly desolate baptistery close
by known as S. Maria in Cosmedin. This was originally, as we may
think, the ancient bath of which Agnellus speaks, and it was converted
into a baptistery by the Arians, and later consecrated for Catholic
uses under the title of S. Maria in Cosmedin and used as an oratory.
It is an octagonal building whose walls support a cupola which is
covered with mosaics in circles like that of the original baptistery
of the city. In the midst we see Christ almost a youth standing naked
in Jordan immersed to his waist. Upon His left, S. John stands upon a
rock, his staff in his left hand, while his right rests upon the head
of Our Lord. Opposite to him sits enthroned the old god of Jordan, a
reed in his hand, listening, perhaps, to the words of the Father:
"This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." Over Christ's head
the Dove is displayed in the golden heaven.

About the central mosaic is set a band of palm leaves, while on the
outer circle we see the twelve Apostles very much like the martyrs of
S. Apollinare standing dressed in white, their crowns in their hands
between palms. Only S. Peter and another, perhaps S. John or S. Paul,
do not bear crowns, but S. Peter his keys and the other a book.
Between them is set a throne on which stands a jewelled cross.

It is exceedingly difficult to say when these mosaics were executed,
for they have been so entirely restored that very little of the
original work is left to us. They are certainly very early for work of
the Catholic restoration; and yet they remind one strongly of the
processions of S. Apollinare Nuovo. If as a whole the design of these
mosaics is of the time of the archbishop S. Agnellus, it is curious
that the subject of the Baptism should have been used for a church
which by his act had ceased to be a baptistery. The most reasonable
hypothesis would seem to be that the design and choice of subject is
in the main due to the Arians; that the central disc remains late work
of their time in so far as it is original at all. While the apostles
may be in the main the work of the Catholic restoration.

Theodoric was, as these works serve to show, a great builder of
churches in his capital. Not all of them have remained to our day. Dr.
Ricci has thought that we see something of one of them in the Portico
Antico of the Piazza Maggiore where there are eight columns of granite
upon the left of the Palazzo del Comune with late Roman capitals, four
of which have the monogram of the Gothic king. The church of S.
Andrea,[1] according to Dr Ricci, stood by the city wall, near where
the Venetians in the fifteenth century built their Rocca, destroying
the church to make room for it. Dr. Ricci suggests that when they
began to construct the Portico of the Piazza they used, as indeed they
more than any other people were wont to do, the material of the
demolished church in their new building and among it these great
columns with their Roman capitals and strange monograms.

[Footnote 1: S. Andrea was, according to Rasponi, _op. cit. ut supra_,
the same as the chapel of the Arcivescovado called S, Pier Crisologo.]

But astonishing though these churches are which Theodoric built by the
art and hands of the Italians during the generation of his rule in
Ravenna, they would not impress us with the strength and importance of
his personality and government, as undoubtedly they do, if we had not
in his mausoleum perhaps the most impressive late Roman building left
to us practically intact in all Italy, a thing which, quite as much as
the mightier tomb of Hadrian, assures us of the enormous vitality of
Roman civilisation, its weight, endurance, and unfailing continuance
through every sort of disaster and misgovernment.

This mighty monument is situated upon the north-east of the city,
perhaps upon the old Roman road the Via Popilia. That it was built by
Theodoric himself might seem certain. For though it has been said that
it was erected by Amalasuntha the Anonymus Valesii tells us that
Theodoric built it before he died. "While yet he lived he made a
monument of squared stone, a work of marvellous greatness, covered
with a single stone." It is perhaps of little consequence to whom we
owe this mighty tomb, for it is absolutely, and in any case, Roman
work, and might seem to have been modelled upon the far larger and
more tremendous mausoleum of Hadrian.[1]

[Footnote 1: Choisy points out that the mausoleum of Theodoric has
stylistic affinities with Syrian work, and Strzygowski, who reminds us
that several bishops of Ravenna were Syrians, thinks that Ravenna in
much derived from Syria especially from Antioch.]

The mausoleum is built in two stories of block after block of hewn and
squared stone. The lower of the two stories is decagonal and has in
every side a vast archway or niche, one of which forms the gateway.
Within we find a huge cruciform chamber lighted by six square
openings. The upper story, now reached by two stairways, built with
ancient materials in 1774, is circular, having about it eighteen blind
arches and over it a vast circular roof hewn out of a single block of
Istrian stone that weighs, it is said, two hundred tons. It may be
that this upper story, smaller as it is than the lower, was of old
surrounded by a colonnade, and it may be that the twelve projections
upon the vast monolith of the roof once upheld statutes of the twelve
Apostles. We do not know.[1]

[Footnote 1: On the other hand, these projections are thought by many
to have been used as rings for the ropes by which the roof was hauled
up an inclined bank of earth into place They each bear the name of an
Apostle, and are similar to the small abutting arches round the dome
of S. Sophia at Salonica]

Here in this mighty tomb, which is known in Ravenna as _La Rotonda_,
abandoned now in an unkempt garden, Theodoric, who expected to found a
line of kings who would one day lie beside him; as long as he lay
there at all, lay there alone. Not for long, however, did he enjoy
that solitude. Already, when Agnellus wrote his _Liber Pontificalis_,
the tomb was empty. He tells us that the porphyry urn, which had
served as sepulchre for the Gothic king, then stood at the door of the
Benedictine monastery close by, and that it was empty. And it seemed
to him, he says, that the body of the king had been thrown out of the
mausoleum because a heretic and a barbarian, as we may suppose, was
not worthy of it. At any rate the body of Theodoric was no longer in
the mausoleum in the beginning of the ninth century, and it is certain
that it had been ejected thence many years before. In the year 1854 a
gang of navvies who were excavating a dock between the railway station
and the Corsini Canal, some two hundred yards perhaps from the
mausoleum, and on the site of an old cemetery, came upon a skeleton
"armed with a golden cuirass, a sword by its side, and a golden helmet
upon its head. In the hilt of the sword and in the helmet large jewels
were blazing." Most of this booty they disposed of, but a few pieces
were recovered and these are now in the Museo. It might seem that this
can have been none other than the body of the great Gothic king.
Indeed Dr. Ricci finds the ornament upon the armour to be similar to
the decoration upon the cornice of the mausoleum. If this be so it
puts the matter almost beyond doubt.

Theodoric was not allowed to rest in the mighty tomb that Latin genius
had built for him; but for ages many, famous and distinguished in
their day, sought to lie under a monument so splendid. The place
became a sort of pantheon. Long before then, however, it had been
consecrated as a church, S. Maria della Rotonda, and a Benedictine
monastery had been founded close by whose monks served it. To-day that
monastery has utterly disappeared, and there are no signs of a church
in the _Rotonda_. Only the mausoleum remains in a tangled garden, far
from any road, empty and deserted.




When Belisarius entered Ravenna in 540, he apparently found more than
one new building begun but not finished; of these the chief was the
church of S. Vitale. This magnificent octagonal building with its
narthex and atrium had, according to Agnellus, been founded by the
Archbishop S. Ecclesius, that is to say, between 521 and 534. It was
apparently finished and decorated later by Julius Argentarius, and was
consecrated by the archbishop S. Maximianus in 547. In plan it
resembles very closely the church of SS. Sergius and Bacchus in
Constantinople built by Justinian about 527. As we know both Justinian
and Theodora, his empress, contributed largely to the perfecting of S.
Vitale, which remains certainly his most glorious monument in the

The plan of the church, as I have said, is octagonal, surmounted by a
dome octagonal without but circular within. From one of these eight
sides the sanctuary is thrust out, flanked on either side by a
circular chapel with a rectangular presbytery. Standing obliquely
across one of the two angles of the octagon, directly opposite this
sanctuary, stretched the narthex flanked by circular towers. The great
octagon is divided into two stories, each of which has three windows
upon each of the eight sides, the octagonal dome being lighted by
eight single windows.

[Illustration: S. VITALE]

Within the great octagon formed by the walls is a smaller octagon
formed by an arcade of mighty piers which upholds the cupola. This
arcade contains a double loggia which thus runs round the whole church
with the exception of the presbytery, where it ends in lofty tribunes.
It is upheld between the piers by columns of precious marble having
capitals of the most marvellous beauty.

The space within this inner octagon is covered with a pavement laid
down in the sixteenth century, consisting of all sorts of fragments of
mosaics and marbles which that century destroyed. The upper loggia was
of old the _gyneceo_, the place of the women. Nothing I think left to
us in the world is more sumptuous and gorgeous than this interior.
Everywhere are glittering mosaics, precious slabs of marble, priceless
columns of beautiful marble. And where the mosaics have been destroyed
or left unfinished, as in the cupola and the body of the church,
baroque artists have filled the place with their paintings, paintings
which in their own style are matchless and which it is now foolishly
proposed should be destroyed.[1]

[Footnote 1: We know nothing of any mosaics other than those in the
presbytery and the tribunes, it may be that the church was covered
with mosaic or was painted by the Byzantine artists, and this as well
where the marble slabs now cover the piers as elsewhere. If so it must
have been glorious indeed. Nothing that we can do can restore this
work to us, and we achieve nothing but destruction by destroying the
work that is now there.]

In our examination of the church we turn first to the presbytery,
which is entirely encrusted with most precious marbles and mosaics. In
the midst of it stands the altar consisting of slabs of
semi-transparent alabaster, within which of old lights were set. The
marvellously lovely piece which serves for the altar stone itself is
supported by four columns, and that piece which serves for frontal is
carved with a great cross between two sheep. This altar had long
disappeared, but piece by piece it was recovered; the beautiful altar
stone itself was found behind an altar in a chapel now destroyed in
this church, and was re-erected as we see it in 1899.

[Illustration: Colour Plate S. VITALE: THE PRESBYTERY]

In the same chapel stood till then the beautiful low fretted screens
that now are set across the apse behind the altar, where indeed they
remained till 1700, according to Dr. Ricci. The lower part of the apse
and the piers of the presbytery have been covered with fine marbles,
some of which are ancient, but the vault, the lunettes, and the walls
are entirely encrusted with gorgeous mosaics.

The presbytery is approached from the inner octagon of the church
under a triumphal arch. In the curve of this we see amid much
decorative ornament fifteen circular discs containing the head of Our
Lord, the twelve Apostles, S. Gervasius, and S. Protasius. Beneath
these are two monuments variously formed, Dr. Ricci tells us, in the
sixteenth century. The four columns which they contain originally
supported the baldacchino over the high altar here; three of them are
of verde antico. Framed by these columns are two Roman reliefs from a
frieze originally in the Temple of Neptune, other parts of which are
in the Sala Lapidaria in the Arcivescovado here, in the Louvre, in the
Uffizi, in the Castello of Milan, and in the Museo Archeologico at
Venice. They are indubitably of course the oldest things in the

Within this triumphal arch upon either side rise the tribunes in which
the upper loggia of the church itself comes to an end. These tribunes,
which are exceedingly beautiful, consist of two triple arches, one
above the other on either side, and the columns which support them,
with their marvellous capitals, are I suppose among the most glorious
left in Christendom. The arches themselves and the lunettes upon
either side are encrusted with mosaics. In the lunette upon the right
on either side an altar gorgeously draped, Abel offers to God the
firstling of his flock and Melchizedek Bread and Wine. Upon the face
of the arch we see Moses tending the sheep of Jethro, Moses upon Mount
Hebron, and Moses before the burning bush. In the lunette upon the
left we have the sacrifice of Abraham of his only son, and the visit
of the three angels to Abraham and Sara. Upon the face of the arch we
see Jeremiah the Prophet and Moses upon Mount Sinai. Above, upon the
balustrades, as it were, of the upper loggia we see angels upholding a
circle in which is the sign of the Cross, and above again upon the
face of the arches on either side the four Evangelists and their
symbols. The vault is entirely covered with ornaments in mosaic, amid
which three angels rise and support with uplifted hands the central
disc in which is represented the Agnus Dei.

Though these mosaics have suffered much from unforeseen disaster and
from restoration they still delight us with their richness and
splendour, and nothing I think can well be finer than their effect,
their decorative effect as a whole. They seem to hang there like some
gorgeous Eastern tapestry of Persian stuff, as Dr. Ricci says, some
unfading and indestructible tapestry of the Orient left by chance or
forgetfulness in the old capital of the West.

We now turn to the apse, which we enter under a second triumphal arch
upon the face of which we see upon the left the city of Hierusalem and
upon the left Bethlehem. A cypress stands at the gate of each, and
between them two angels in flight uphold a discus or aureole having
within it eight rays. Above this again are three windows about which
is spread a gorgeous decoration in mosaic.

Beneath within the tribune of the apse we see Our Lord, "beautiful as
Apollo," enthroned upon the orb of the world, an angel upon either
hand, while to his right stands S. Vitalis to whom He hands a crown,
to His left S. Ecclesius bearing the model of this church in his hand.

Beneath upon either side stand the two great mosaic pictures, the most
marvellous works of the sixth century that have come down to us and
perhaps the most glorious and splendid works of art which that age was
able to achieve, and it is needless to say that there is nothing like
them anywhere in the world.

Upon the left we see the great emperor, perhaps the greatest of all
the Caesars, Justinian, bearing in his hands a golden dish; beside him
stands the archbishop of Ravenna, S. Maximianus. A little behind these
two figures and on either side stand five attendant priests, and on
the extreme left of the picture is a group of soldiers.

[Illustration: Capital from S. Vitale]

In the mosaic upon the right we see the empress Theodora, straight
browed, most gorgeously arrayed, very beautiful and a little sinister,
bearing a golden chalice, attended by her splendid ladies and two
priests. Upon the extreme left of the picture stands a little fountain
before an open doorway hung with a curtain.

What can be said of these gorgeous and astonishingly lovely works?
Nothing. They speak too eloquently for themselves. Not there do we see
the mere realism of Rome, the careful and often too careful
arrangement that Roman art, able to speak but incapable of song,
always gives us. Here we have something at once more gorgeous and more
mysterious and more artistic, a symbolical and hieratic art, the gift
of the Orient, of Byzantium. In the best Roman art of the best period
there is always something of the street, something too close to life,
too mere a transcription and a copy of actual things, a mere imitation
without life of its own. But here is something outside the classical
tradition, outside what imperial Rome with its philistinism and its
puritanism has made of the art of Greece and thrust perhaps for ever
upon Europe. Here we are free from the overwhelming common-place of
Roman art, its mediocrity and respectable endeavour.

It is, however, not in the gorgeous mosaics alone that we find the
delight and originality of S. Vitale. The whole church is amazingly
different from anything else to be seen in Italy, for it is altogether
outside the Roman tradition, an absolutely Byzantine building as well
in its construction as in its decoration. It must be compared with the
later S. Sophia and SS Sergius and Bacchus of Constantinople. These,
however, are works more assured and more gracious than S. Vitale, and
yet in its plan at least S. Vitale is a masterpiece, and altogether
the one great sanctuary of Byzantine art of the time of Justinian that
we have in the West. Every part of it is worthy of the strictest and
most eager attention, from the ambulatory, which was covered in 1902
with old marble slabs and where there are two early Christian
sarcophagi, to the restored Cappella Sancta Sanctorum with its
fifth-century sarcophagus, the tomb of the exarch Isaac, and the lofty
_Matronaeum_, the women's gallery, from which the best view of the
mosaics and the marvellously carved Byzantine capitals may be had. Nor
should the narthex be forgotten, mere skeleton though it be. It is
characteristic of such a church as this, and set as it is obliquely to
it, is original in conception and curious.

When we have finished with S. Vitale it is well to leave Ravenna and
to drive by the lofty road over the marshes to the solitary church of
S. Apollinare in Classe which was built also by Giuliano Argentario
for archbishop Ursicinus (535-538) and was consecrated by archbishop
Maximianus in 549.

Classis, Classe, as we know, was the station or port of the Roman
fleet, established and built by Augustus Caesar. It was doubtless a
great place enjoying the busy and noisy life of a great port and
arsenal and possessed vast barracks for the soldiers and sailors of
the imperial fleet. Later even when disasters had fallen upon that
great civilisation it maintained itself, and from the fifth to the
seventh centuries we hear of its churches, S. Apollinare, S. Severo,
S. Probo, S. Raffaele, S. Agnese, S. Giovanni "ad Titum," S. Sergio
_juxta viridarium_, and the great Basilica Petriana.

It was joined to the city of Ravenna by the long suburb of the Via
Caesarea, much I suppose as the Porto di Lido is joined to Venice by
the Riva or as Rovezzano is joined to Florence by the Via Aretina. Of
all the buildings that together made up the Castello of Classe and the
suburb of Caesarea nothing remains to us but the mighty church of S.
Apollinare and its great and now tottering campanile. For Classe and
Cassarea seem to have been finally destroyed in the long Lombard wars,
either as a precautionary measure by the people of Ravenna and the
imperialists or by the attacking Lombards, while the sea which once
washed the walls of Classe has retreated so far that it is only from
the top of her last watch tower it may now be seen.

Nothing can be more desolate and sad than the miserable road across
the empty country between Ravenna and that lonely church of S.
Apollinare. In summer deep in dust that rises, under the heavy tread
of the great oxen which draw the curiously painted carts of the
countryside, in great clouds into the sky; in winter and after the
autumn rains lost in the white curtain of mist that so often surrounds
Ravenna, it is an almost impassable morass of mud and misery. Even at
its best in spring time it is melancholy and curiously mean without
any beauty or nobility of its own, though it commands so much of those
vast spaces of flat and half desolate country which the sea has
destroyed, on the verge of which stands the lonely church.

One comes to this great basilica always I think as to a ruin, to find
without surprise the doors closed and only to be opened after long
knocking. The round campanile that towers and seems to totter in its
strange dilapidation beside the church is so beautiful that it
surprises one at once by its melancholy nobility in the midst of so
much meanness and desolation. It is a building of the ninth century,
and may well have been used as much as a watch tower as a bell tower.
Till recently it had at its base a sacristy, but this has been swept
away. Of old the church too had before it a great narthex of which
certain ruins are left, among them a little tower on the left.

Within we find ourselves in a vast basilica divided into three naves
upheld by twenty-four marvellous columns of great size and beauty, of
Greek marble, with beautiful Byzantine bases and capitals. The central
nave is closed by a curved apse set high over a great crypt thrust out
beyond the rest of the church. Beyond the two aisles are two chapels
each with its little curved apse. The walls of the church and the
walls above the arcade were undoubtedly originally covered, in the one
case with splendid marbles, in the other with mosaics. The walls of
the church were, however, stripped in 1449 by Sigismondo Malatesta of
Rimini when he was building, or rather encasing, the church of S.
Francesco in Rimini with marbles, and turning what had been a Gothic
church of brick into what we know as the Tempio Malatestiano, by the
hands of Alberti. We know that a great quantity of marble of different
kinds was gathered by Sigismondo from all parts of Italy, not only to
furnish the interior of his _Tempio_, but to cover the exterior also
according to the design of Leon Alberti. Even the sepulchral stones
from the old Franciscan convent of S. Francesco in Rimini were used
and the blocks which the people of Fano had collected for their
church. S. Apollinare in Classe was then in Benedictine hands. With
the consent of the Abate there, very many ancient and valuable marbles
were torn from the walls and carried off by Sigismondo to Rimini; so
many in fact that the people of Ravenna complained to the Venetian
doge Francesco Foscari, saying that Sigismondo had despoiled the
church. The doge, however, seems to have cared nothing about it and
Sigismondo sent to Ravenna and to the Abate two hundred gold florins,
so that both declared themselves satisfied. Then the church passed to
me, these three sheep belong rather to the upper part of the mosaic
which, with the Cross in the midst, bearing the face of Our Lord, and
on either side Moses and Elias, symbolises the Transfiguration. These
three sheep would thus represent S. Peter, S. James and S. John.


[Illustration: CAPITAL FROM S. VITALE]

Beneath between the windows we see represented four Bishops of
Ravenna, S. Ursinus, S. Ursus, S. Severus, and S. Ecclesius. To the
right are the sacrifices of Abel, Melchizedek, and Abraham. To the
left the privileges of the church of Ravenna. In the midst we see an
archbishop and the emperor who hands him a scroll on which is written
_privilegia_. To the left are three priests bearing fire, incense, and
a thurible. To the right are three other figures supporting the
emperor as the three priests support the archbishop. Doubtless this
mosaic records the privileges granted to the church of Ravenna by
Constantinople. The archbishop is probably Reparatus who received so
much from the Emperor Constantinus IV. Two of the figures who attend
the emperor represent Heraclius and Tiberius. This mosaic is the
latest in the church, dating from 668.

Over the arch of the tribune is a medallion bust of the Saviour
holding a book in His left hand and blessing us with His right. Upon
either side are symbols of the four Evangelists in the clouds of the
sky. Beneath we see on either side the cities of Bethlehem and
Hierusalem, from each of which issue six sheep--perhaps the twelve
apostles. Beneath again are two palm trees and again the archangels
Gabriel and Michael and S. Luke and S. Matthew.

These mosaics have often been remade and repaired. When Crowe and
Cavalcaselle examined them before 1860 they found that the whole tunic
of the Moses had been repainted and half the face of the Elias had
been restored. They proceed: "The head of S. Apollinare is in part
damaged, the left hand and lower part of the figure destroyed. The
sheep beside S. Apollinare, but particularly those on the right of
that figure, are almost completely modern. A large part of the left
side of the apsis is repainted, of the four bishops between the
windows of the tribune the head of Ecclesius is preserved, the lower
part repainted. The head of S. Ursinus is a new mosaic, and the lower
half of the figure is restored. In the mosaic of the sacrifice half
the head from the eyes upwards and part of the arms of Abel are
repainted, the legs have become dropsical under repair. The figures of
Abraham and Isaac are almost completely repainted, and the hands and
feet are formless for that reason. This mosaic is repaired in two
different ways with white cubes coloured over and with painted stucco.
In the mosaic representing the tender of privileges the nimbi as
already stated are new, but besides, the lower part of all the figures
is repainted in stucco and the heads are all more or less repaired. Of
the figures in the arch that of the archangel Gabriel is half ruined
and half restored, and part of S. Matthew and S. Luke are new."

Since Crowe and Cavalcaselle wrote a vast restoration has been
undertaken, and this was finished in 1908. It was very carefully
carried out and it is to be believed that the work as we see it is now

There is much else of interest in the church: the beautiful crypt with
its ancient sarcophagus of S. Apollinare and its columns; the ten
great sarcophagi which stand about the church, three of which contain
the relics of archbishops of Ravenna; the curious tabernacle at the
end of the north aisle. But a whole morning, or for that matter a
whole day, is not too much to spend in this beautiful and deserted
sanctuary which bridges for us so many centuries and in which we are
made one with those who helped to establish the foundations of Europe.



The last great original work to be undertaken in Ravenna as the
capital of the empire in the West was the building and decoration of
the churches of S. Vitale and S. Apollinare in Classe. All the
Byzantine work that was done later in Ravenna is merely imitative, an
expression of failing power under the crushing disaster of the Lombard
invasion. When at last Aistulf in 751 made himself master of the
impregnable city, it ceased, and suddenly, to be a capital, and though
in 754 Pepin "restored" it to the papacy and established the pope
throughout the Exarchate and the Pentapolis, he by that act founded
the Papal States, whose capital of necessity was Rome. Thus Ravenna
found herself when Charlemagne had been crowned emperor in 800 little
more than a decaying provincial city, without authority or hope of
resurrection, and it is as a city of the provinces full only of
gigantic memories that she appears in the Middle Age and the
Renaissance and remains to our own day.

The appearance of Charlemagne, the resurrection of the empire in the
West, confirm and consolidate the misfortune of 751 in which indeed
she lost everything. But when we see the great Frank strip the
imperial palace of its marbles and mosaics it is as though the fate of
Ravenna had been expressed in some great ceremony and not by unworthy
hands. An emperor had set her up so high, an emperor had kept her
there so long; it was an emperor who, as in a last great rite, stript
her of her apparel and left her naked with her memories.

[Illustration: The Campanile of S. Apollinare]

Those memories, not only splendid and glorious, but gaunt and terrible
too, smoulder in her ruined heart as the fire may do in the ashes when
all that was living and glorious has been consumed. Almost nothing as
she became when Charlemagne left her, a mere body still wrapt in
gorgeous raiment stiff with gold, but without a soul, she still dreamt
of dominion, of empire, and of power. Governed by her archbishops, she
rebelled against Rome, struggled for a secular and sometimes a
religious autonomy, and came at last, as surely might have been
prophesied, to consider herself as a feudatory of the Empire, not of
the Church.

But though this struggle might have been foreseen it is futile, it has
no life in it, it is without any real importance, it leads nowhere and
fails to interest us. All that really concerns us in the confused
story of Ravenna from the time of the resurrection of the empire till
our own day are two strange incidents that have nothing fundamentally
to do with her, that befell her by chance; I mean the apparition of
Dante, when we see the most eager mediaeval apologist of the imperial
idea fortunately and rightly find in her a refuge and a tomb; and the
battle of 1512 in which fell Gaston de Foix and which cost the lives
of twelve thousand men and achieved nothing.

Nevertheless Ravenna, for so long the citadel of the empire in the
West, of all the cities of Italy was least likely to forget her origin
or to forsake her memories, and it is both curious and interesting to
watch her entry, little splendid though that entry be, into the
marvellously vital world of the Middle Age in Italy.

The slow re-establishment of Latin power which followed the crowning
of Charlemagne, and which the Church secured by that act, first began
to come to its own with the rise of the bishops to civil power in the
cities of Italy. Now Ravenna had certainly been governed by her
archbishop ever since Pepin in 754 had forced Aistulf to place the
keys of the city upon the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles. If
nowhere else in the Cisalpine plain, Latin civilisation and law, then,
never failed in Ravenna, and whatever may have happened elsewhere it
might seem certain that here in Ravenna and probably throughout the
exarchate the curia existed and endured throughout the barbarian

This would explain the early and extraordinary development of communal
institutions in Ravenna. And since, one may believe, the Roman legions
were replaced throughout the empire by the religious orders, it is
interesting to know that in the tenth century her Latin energy is
borne witness to by the fact that in 956 she produced S. Romuald of
the Onesti family of Ravenna, who was educated in the Benedictine
monastery of Classe and who founded the Order of Camaldoli, and toward
the end of the same century, in 988, she produced S. Peter Damian, the
brother of the arch-priest of Ravenna, cardinal-bishop of Ostia and
papal legate in Milan.

Nor with the rise of the "spirito italico" everywhere in Italy do we
find Ravenna exhausted. Far from it, she is as ardent as any other
city of the peninsula whatsoever. Only always she is anti-papal, as
though, living in her memories, as she could not but do, and this was
her greatest strength, she remembered her old allegiance to the
emperor and could not forget that when the pope became his heir in
Italy she had fallen from her old eminence. Thus as early as the first
years of the eleventh century her archbishop obtains confirmation from
the emperor of his temporal powers, in which confirmation no
recognition of the sovereignty of the pope appears at all. This act of
allegiance to the emperor was repeated when Barbarossa appeared, and
indeed the archbishops of Ravenna soon became the most eager if not
most the serious supporters of the emperors in all the great plain and
perhaps in all Italy. Ravenna, once the imperial capital, though
fallen was imperial still. She was haunted, haunted by ghosts that
were restless in those marvellous tombs, that litter her churches,
loom out of the grey curtain of mist like a fortress, or shine and
glitter with imperishable colours and are full of memories as
imperishable as themselves.

Yet though it was to her the emperors so often looked for aid and
succour and rest, it was not always so. The present, even with her,
was more than the past. With the great development of communal
institutions which marked especially the twelfth century, compelled
too to face, though never with success, the increasing state of
Venice, which, indeed, and successfully, had usurped her place in the
world and had realised what she had failed to achieve, she was ready
and able in 1198 to place herself at the head of the league of the
cities of the Romagna and the Marches against the imperial power then
both oppressive and feeble; so that pope Innocent III. found it easy
to restore the unforgotten rights of the Holy See there and these were
ratified by Otto IV. and by Frederick II. as the price of papal

It will thus be readily understood that if, at the opening of the
thirteenth century, there was one city in Italy more certain than
another to be at the mercy of the universal quarrel of Guelf and
Ghibelline, that city was Ravenna. In its larger sense that quarrel
was her inheritance. It was the one thought which filled her mind. But
here, as elsewhere, the great quarrel was insoluble or at any rate not
to be solved. It merely bred faction and divided the city against
itself. Guelf and Ghibelline tore Ravenna as they tore Florence and
Siena in pieces.

The two great Ghibelline families were the Ubertini and the Mainardi
and these at first gained the mastery of the city; but in 1218 Pietro
Traversari with the aid of the Mainardi turned the Ubertini out and,
what is more, made himself master.

Pietro Traversari was succeeded as Podesta in 1225 by his son Paolo,
who became Guelf and fought in Innocent IV.'s quarrel against the
emperor Frederick II.; Frederick was able to turn the Traversari out
of Ravenna in 1240 and to hold the city for eight years, but in 1248
the pope retook it and the Traversari were restored though not I think
to the chief power. They remained in power till in the last year of
the reign of Gregory X., 1275, Guido da Polenta appears.

Rudolph of Hapsburg was now king--not emperor, for he was never
crowned by the pope. He had been a partisan of the second Frederick's,
but pope Nicholas III. did not find in the founder of the Hapsburg
dynasty the stuff of the Hohenstaufen. In 1278 he forced Rudolph to
secure to him by an "irrevocable decree" all that the papacy had ever
claimed in the Exarchate and the Pentapolis. The empire renounced all
its claims in the Romagna and the Marches; the confines of the states
of the Church were defined anew, and the cities of which the pope was
absolute lord were named one by one. Of course among these was

The Polentani appear first in the story of Ravenna in or about the
year 1167, when we find them acting as vicars for the archbishops. We
next hear of them as Podesta, their long rule really beginning, as I
have said, in 1275, when Guido il Vecchio, a rather formidable
soldier, appears as captain of the people and victor over Cervia,
whose territory he added to the dominion of Ravenna. It was indeed
this man who first in the Ravenna of the Middle Ages attempted to
establish an independent or semi-independent state, by adding
territory to territory and thus creating a lordship. For this end he
allied himself with the Malatesta of Rimini--a master stroke, for the
Polentani of Ravenna and the Malatesta of Rimini had long been bitter

The alliance was cemented by a marriage which all the world knows as
an immortal tragedy. Guido Vecchio had a beautiful daughter,
Francesca. Malatesta had two sons, the elder Giovanni called, for he
was a cripple, _lo Sciancato_, the younger, for he was very fair,
known as Paolo _il Bello_. To secure their alliance Polenta married
his daughter Francesca to Malatesta's elder son Giovanni; but she had
already learned to love, or she soon came to love, his brother Paolo
il Bella. Giovanni came upon them one night in Rimini and killed them
both with one thrust of his sword. The tragedy, however, should only
be told in the immortal words of Dante, who recounts the tale
Francesca told him in the second circle of the Inferno. For seeing
Francesca and her lover floating for ever in each other arms "light
before the wind," as the wind swayed them towards Virgil and himself
the Florentine addressed them:

"O wearied spirits come, and hold discourse
With us, if by none else restrained.' As doves
By fond desire invited, on wide wings
And firm, to their sweet nest returning home,
Cleave the air, wafted by their will along,
Thus issued, from that troop where Dido ranks,
They, through the ill air speeding, with such force
My cry prevailed, by strong affection urged.
'O gracious creature and benign! who go'st
Visiting, through this element obscure,
Us, who the world with bloody stain imbrued,
If, for a friend, the King of all, we own'd,
Our prayer to him should for thy peace arise,
Since thou hast pity on our evil plight
Of whatsoe'er to hear or to discourse
It pleases thee, that will we hear, of that
Freely with thee discourse, while e'er the wind
As now is mute The land that gave me birth
Is situate on the coast, where Po descends
To rest in ocean with his sequent streams
'Love that in gentle heart is quickly learnt
Entangled him by that fair form, from me
Ta'en in such cruel sort, as grieves me still,
Love that denial takes from none beloved
Caught me with pleasing him so passing well
That as thou seest, he yet deserts me not
'Love brought us to one death, Caina waits
The soul who spilt our life' Such were their words,
At hearing which downward I bent my looks
And held them there so long that the bard cried
'What art thou pondering?' I in answer thus
'Alas' by what sweet thoughts, what fond desire
Must they at length to that ill pass have reached'
Then turning, I to them my speech address'd,
And thus began 'Francesca! your sad fate
Even to tears my grief and pity moves
But tell me, in the time of your sweet sighs,
By what, and how Love granted, that ye knew
Your yet uncertain wishes?' She replied
'No greater grief then to remember days
Of joy when misery is at hand That kens
Thy learn'd instructor Yet so eagerly
If thou art bent to know the primal root
From whence our love gat being, I will do
As one who weeps and tells his tale One day
For our delight we read of Lancelot,
How him love thrall'd Alone we were and no
Suspicion near us Oft-times by that reading
Our eyes were drawn together, and the hue
Fled from our altered cheek But at one point
Alone we fell When of that smile we read,
That wished smile, so rapturously kissed
By one so deep in love, then he, who ne'er
From me shall separate, at once my lips
All trembling kissed The book and writer both
Were love's purveyors In its leaves that day
We read no more' While thus one spirit spake
The other wailed so sorely, that heart-struck
I, through compassion fainting, seem'd not far
From death and like a corse fell to the ground"

With the name of Dante we come to the real importance Ravenna has for
us in the Middle Age. Dante, however, was not the guest of Guido
Vecchio. That great lord ruled in Ravenna as perpetual captain till
his death in 1310, when he was succeeded by his son Lamberto who had
for some time been the leading spirit in the city. He altogether
abolished the so-called democratic government, that is to say, the
consulship which was filled in turn by two consuls, the one succeeding
the other every fifteen days. Lamberto made himself lord and reigned
till 1316, when he was succeeded by his nephew Guido Novello, the
consul of Cesena, who thus brought Cesena into the lordship. It is
with this man that a universal interest in Ravenna may be said for a
moment to revive, for it was he who had the honour to be the host of
Dante Alighieri.

Guido Novello was not a mere adventurer like Guido Vecchio, he was a
man of considerable culture, with a love of learning and of the arts.
It was, as we shall see, at his earnest solicitation that Dante came
to visit him, and if we may believe Vasari it was at the poet's
suggestion he invited Giotto to his court. "As it had come to the ears
of Dante that Giotto was in Ferrara, he so contrived that the latter
was induced to visit Ravenna, where the poet was then in exile, and
where Giotto painted some frescoes which are moderately good ... for
the Signori da Polenta."

Dante as we may think spent the last four years of his life in
Ravenna. Those four years we shall consider presently. Here it will be
enough to note that he met his death at last in the service of his
host and benefactor Guido Novello. The most disastrous action of his
life was, it will be remembered, the embassy he made on behalf of his
own city of Florence to pope Boniface VIII. That business cost him his
home and the city he loved with so cruel a passion; it made him an
exile. It was upon the longest journey of all that his last embassy
sent him. He set out it seems as ambassador of Guido Novello for
Venice, which so far as the sea and all its business are concerned had
long replaced Ravenna as mistress of the Adriatic. The recent
acquisition of the city and the salt flats of Cervia by Ravenna had
become a grievance with the Venetians who desired that monopoly for
themselves. It seems that in some local quarrel at Cervia certain
Venetian sailors had been killed and Dante went on Guide's behalf to
clear the matter up. He was to be as it happened as unsuccessful in
his last embassy as he had been in his first. The old doge, according
to the legend which I am bound to say is now generally regarded as a
fable, received him coldly and, so the tale runs, invited him to
dinner upon a fast day. "In front of the envoys of other princes who
were of greater account than the Polentani of Ravenna, and were served
before Dante, the larger fish were placed, while in front of Dante was
placed the smallest. This difference of treatment nettled Dante who
took up one of the little fish in his hand and held it to his ear as
though expecting it to say something. The doge observing this asked
him what his strange behaviour meant. To which Dante replied: 'As I
knew that the father of this fish met his death in these waters I was
asking him news of his father.'

"'Well,' said the doge, 'and what did he answer?' Dante replied: 'He
told me that he and his companions were too little to remember much
about him; but that I might learn what I wanted to know from the older
fish, who would be able to give me the news I asked for.'

"Thereupon the doge at once ordered Dante to be served with a fine
large fish."

[Illustration: Colour Plate S. GIOVANNI BATTISTA]

Thus Dante called attention to his great achievement, by which I
suppose he hoped at once to vindicate his dignity as a great man,
certainly greater than any one present, and by this means to lend
importance to his mission. Whatever may have been the personal result
of his sally, it did his mission no good at all. When the official
interview took place Dante, if we may believe something of the
apocryphal "Letter of Dante to Guido da Polenta," began to address the
doge in Latin and was bidden to speak in Italian or to obtain an
interpreter. His mission was a failure and Venice, who in the person
of her doge did her best to show either her ignorance of the great
poet who did her the honour of crossing her Piazza or of her
philistine contempt of him, lives in the _Divine Comedy_ only as an
illustration of Hell.

"Thus we from bridge to bridge ...
Pass'd on, and to the summit reaching, stood
To view another gap, within the round
Of Malebolge, other bootless pangs.
Marvellous darkness shadow'd o'er the place.
In the Venetian arsenal as boils
Through wintry months tenacious pitch, to smear
Their unbound vessels ...
So not by force of fire but art divine
Boiled here a glutinous thick mass, that round
Limed all the shore."

On his way back to Ravenna by land, for the Venetians added to their
shame by refusing him the sea passage, he caught a fever in the
marshes and returned to Ravenna only to die: the mightiest of all
those--emperors and kings--who lie in that "_generale sepolcro di
santissimi corpi_."

That was in 1321; and with the death of Dante our interest in Ravenna
again becomes cold. Guido Novello soon fell, driven out of Ravenna,
never to return, by Ostasio who had assassinated Guide's brother the
archbishop-elect Rinaldo. Ostasio ruled with the title of vicar which
he received both from Lewis the Bavarian and from pope Benedict XII.
This vicious and cruel despot was succeeded by his equally cruel son
Bernardino. He ruled for fourteen years, 1345-1359, not, however,
without mishap, for his brothers conspired against him and flung him
into prison at Cervia. He contrived, however, to turn the tables upon
them and to hold them in the same dungeon where he himself had been
their prisoner. He was succeeded at last by Guido Lucio, a man of some
integrity; but he too was the victim of his family, his own sons
rising up against him in his old age and in 1389 flinging him into
prison where he died.

He was followed in the lordship of Ravenna by his son Ostasio. This
man died in 1431, that is to say, in the midst of all the confusion,
here in Romagna and the Marches, of the fifteenth century, when the
condottieri were one and all looking for thrones and such ambitions as
those of the Visconti, of Francesco Sforza, of Sigismondo Malatesta,
of Federigo of Urbino and of a host of _parvenus_ were struggling for
dominion and mastery. Thus it was that Ostasio's successor, Ostasio,
in 1438 was compelled to make alliance with duke Filippo Maria of
Milan. Venice, ever watchful, saw Visconti's game, remembered Cervia,
and insisted upon Ostasio coming to Venice. While there he learned
that Venice had annexed his dominion. Nor are we surprised to learn
that he ended his days in a Franciscan convent, where he was
mysteriously assassinated, probably by order of Venice. But with the
entry of Venice into Ravenna the Middle Age, even in that far place,
comes to an end. The Polentani were done with. A new and vigorous
government ushered the old imperial city into the Renaissance.



Before following the fortunes of Ravenna under that new and alien
government into the Renaissance and the modern world, it will be well
if we turn to examine more closely her one great moment in the Middle
Age, the moment in which Dante found in her a last refuge, and then
linger a little among such of her mediaeval buildings as the modern
world has left her.

In any attempt to deal, however briefly, with Dante's sojourn in
Ravenna we must first find out what we really know concerning it and
distinguish this from what is mere conjecture or deduction. Now the
first authority for Dante's life generally, is undoubtedly Boccaccio,
and as it happens he was in Ravenna, where he had relations, certainly
in 1350 and perhaps in 1346. In 1350 he was the envoy of the Or San
Michele Society, who by his hand sent Beatrice, the daughter of Dante,
then a nun in the convent of S. Stefano dell' Uliva in Ravenna, ten
gold florins He was thus in communication with Dante's daughter so
that when he came to write the Vita di Dante, probably in 1356-1357,
he was certainly in possession of facts. It will be well then if we
state to begin with in his own words what he has told us of the years
Dante spent in Ravenna.

But first as to the date of Dante's coming to Ravenna. Boccaccio would
seem to place it immediately after the death of Henry VII. in 1313. To
modern scholarship this has seemed incredible for various reasons, and
it prefers to allow Dante to visit Verona first and to come to Ravenna
in 1317. Yet let us hear Boccaccio.

He begins by telling us that the too early death of the emperor, who
was poisoned, as is thought, at Buonconvento in southern Tuscany on S.
Bartholomew's day in 1313, cast every one of his faction into despair
"and Dante most of all; wherefore no longer going about to seek his
own return from exile he passed the heights of the Apennines and
departed to Romagna where his last day, that was to put an end to all
his toils, awaited him.

"In those times was Lord of Ravenna (a famous and ancient city of
Romagna) a noble cavalier whose name was Guido Novello da Polenta; he
was well skilled in the liberal arts and held men of worth in the
highest honour, especially such as excelled others in knowledge. And
when it came to his ears that Dante, beyond all expectation, was now
in Romagna and in such desperate plight, he, who had long time before
known his worth by fame, resolved to receive him and do him honour.
Nor did he wait to be requested by him to do this, but considering
with how great shame men of worth ask such favours, with liberal mind
and with free proffers he approached him, requesting from Dante of
special grace that which he knew Dante must needs have begged of him,
to wit, that it might please him to abide with him. The two wills,
therefore, of him who received and of him who made the request thus
uniting on one same end, Dante, being highly pleased by the liberality
of the noble cavalier, and on the other side constrained by his
necessities, awaited no further invitation but the first, and took his
way to Ravenna, where he was honourably received by the lord thereof,
who revived his fallen hope by kindly festerings; and giving him
abundantly such things as were fitting, he kept him with him there for
many years, yea, even to the last year of his life.

"Never had his amorous longings, nor his grieving tears, nor his
domestic anxieties, nor the seducing glory of public offices, nor his
miserable exile, nor his unendurable poverty, been able with all their
force to turn Dante aside from his main intent, to wit, from sacred
studies; for as will be seen hereafter, when mention shall be made
severally of the works that he composed, he will be found to have
exercised himself in writing in the midst of all that is fiercest
among these passions. And if in the teeth of such and so many
adversaries as have been set forth above, he became by force of genius
and of perseverance so illustrious as we see, what may we suppose he
would have been if, like many another, he had had even as many
supports; or, at least, had had no foes; or but few? Indeed I know
not. But were it lawful so to say, I would declare that he had surely
become a God upon the earth.

[Illustration: Casa Polentana]

"Dante then, having lost all hope of a return to Florence, though he
retained the longing for it, dwelt in Ravenna for a number of years,
under the protection of its gracious lord. And here by his teachings
he trained many scholars in poetry, especially in the vernacular,
which vernacular to my thinking he first exalted and brought into
repute amongst us Italians no otherwise than did Homer his amongst the
Greeks or Virgil his amongst the Latins. Before him, though it is
supposed that it had already been practised some short space of years,
yet was there none who by the numbering of the syllables and by the
consonance of the terminal parts had the feeling or the courage to
make it the instrument of any matter dealt with by the rules of art;
or rather it was only in the lightest of love poems that they
exercised themselves therein. But he showed by the effect that every
lofty matter may be treated in it; and made our vernacular glorious
above every other.

"But since his hour is assigned to every man, Dante when already in
the middle or thereabout of his fifty-sixth year fell sick and in
accordance with the Christian religion received every Sacrament of the
Church humbly, and devoutly, and reconciled himself with God by
contrition for everything, that, being but man, he had done against
His pleasure; and in the month of September in the year of Christ one
thousand three hundred and twenty-one, on the day whereon the
Exaltation of the Holy Cross is celebrated by the Church, not without
greatest grief on the part of the aforesaid Guido and generally all
the other Ravennese citizens, he rendered up to his Creator his
toil-worn spirit, the which I doubt not was received into the arms of
his most noble Beatrice, with whom, in the sight of Him who is the
supreme good, the miseries of this present life left behind, he now
lives most joyously in that life the felicity of which expects no end.

"The magnanimous cavalier placed the dead body of Dante, adorned with
poetic insignia, upon a funeral bier, and had it borne on the
shoulders of his most distinguished citizens to the place of the Minor
Friars in Ravenna, with such honour as he deemed worthy of such a
corpse And here, public lamentations as it were having followed him so
far, he had him placed in a stone chest, wherein he still lieth. And
returning to the house in which Dante lately lived, according to the
Ravennese custom he himself delivered an ornate and long discourse
both in commendation of the profound knowledge and the virtue of the
deceased, and in consolation of his friends whom he had left in
bitterest grief. He purposed, had his estate and his life endured, to
honour him with so choice a tomb that if never another merit of his
had made him memorable to those to come, this tomb should have
accomplished it.

"This laudable intent was in brief space of time made known to certain
who in those days were most famous for poetry in Ravenna; whereon each
one for himself, to show his own power and to bear witness to the
goodwill he had to the dead poet, and to win the grace and love of the
signore, who was known to have it at heart, made verses which, if
placed as epitaph on the tomb that was to be, should with due praises
teach posterity who lay therein. And these verses they sent to the
glorious signore, who, by great guilt of Fortune, in short space of
time lost his estate, and died at Bologna; wherefore the making of the
tomb and the placing of the verses thereon were left undone. Now when
these verses were shown to me long afterward, perceiving that they had
never been put in their place, by reason of the chance already spoken
of, and pondering on the present work that I am writing, how that it
is not indeed a material tomb, but is none the less--as that was to
have been--a perpetual preserver of his memory, I imagined that it
would not be unfitting to add them to this work. But in as much as no
more than the words of some one of them (for there were several) would
have been cut upon the marble, so I held that only the words of one
should be written here; wherefore on examining them all I judged that
the most worthy for art and for matter were fourteen verses made by
Messer Giovanni del Virgilio the Bolognese, a most illustrious and
great poet of those days, and one who had been a most especial friend
of Dante. And the verses are these hereafter written:

"'Theologus Dantes, nullius dogmatis expers,
Quod foveat claro philosophia sinu,
Gloria musarum, vulgo gratissimus auctor,
Hic iacet, et fama pulsat utrumque polum,
Qui loca defunctis, gladiis regnumque gemellis,
Distribuit, laicis rhetoricisque modis.
Pascua Pieriis demum resonabat avenis,
Atropos heu letum livida rupit opus
Huic ingrata tulit tristem Florentia fructum,
Exilium, vati patria cruda suo.
Quem pia Guidonis gremio Ravenna Novelli
Gaudet honorati continuisse ducis.
Mille trecentenis ter septem Numinis annis,
Ad sua septembris idibus astra redit.'"[1]

[Footnote 1: The translation is Mr. Wicksteed's The Early Lives of
Dante. He adds a translation of the verses "Theologic Dante, a
stranger to no teaching that philosophy may cherish in her illustrious
bosom; glory of the Muses, author most acceptable to the commonalty,
lieth here and smiteth either pole with his fame, who assigned their
places to the dead, and their jurisdictions to the twin swords, in
laic and rhetoric modes. And lastly, with Pierian pipe he was making
the pasture lands resound, black Atropos, alas, broke off the work of
joy. For him ungrateful Florence bore the dismal fruit of exile, harsh
fatherland to her own bard. But Ravenna's piety rejoices to have
gathered him into the bosom of Guido Novello, her illustrious chief.
In one thousand three hundred and three times seven years of the
Deity, he went back on September's Ides to his own stars."]

So far Boccaccio. Though his account tells us much it certainly does
not permit us to make many definite statements as to Dante's life in
Ravenna. One of the first things, for instance, that any modern
biographer would have noted with accuracy would have been the house in
which Dante lived. Something definite, too, we might have expected as
to his friends and correspondents, as to his occupations and habits.
Of all this there is almost nothing. It will, however, especially be
noted that Boccaccio speaks of Dante as "training many scholars in
poetry especially in the vernacular." What can this mean?

It has been suggested and with some authority that Dante was not
entirely dependent upon his host Guido Novello, that he was able to
gain a livelihood, at least, by lectures either in his own house or in
some public place, and that it is even probable that he occupied an
official position in Ravenna of a very honourable sort, that he was,
in fact, professor of Rhetoric in that city. There is no evidence to
support such a theory. It is true that though we know the names of the
professors of Grammar or Rhetoric in the very ancient schools of
Ravenna, schools which date from the time of Theodosius the Great, we
do not find the name of him who filled that chair during the time of
Dante's sojourn in Ravenna. In 1268 Pasio della Noce was lecturing on
Jurisprudence in Ravenna; in 1298 Ugo di Riccio was professor of Civil
Law there; in 1304 Leone da Verona is teaching Grammar and Logic in
the city. Then we hear no more till we come to the year 1333, when a
certain Giovanni Giacomo del Bando is professor.[1] The mere absence
of names--a silence which does not coincide in any way with Dante's
advent or with Dante's death--is, certainly, not enough to allow us to
assert the probability of the great poet's having filled the office of
lecturer or professor of Civil Law in the school of Ravenna. It is
true that Saviozzo da Siena tells us:

"Qui comincio a leggere Dante in pria
Retorica vulgare e molti aperti
Fece di sua Poetica armonia"

and that Manetti, an early biographer, seems to support the theory.
But the best evidence, if evidence it can be called, which we have for
this theory is to be found in a codex in the Laurentian Library,
quoted by Bandini and cited by Dr. Ricci, which says: "It is commonly
reported that Dante, being in Ravenna, studying and giving lectures as
a doctor to his pupils upon various works, the schools became the
resort of many learned men." This statement upon hearsay, however,
does little more than confirm the definite assertion of Boccaccio that
Dante "trained many scholars," not in civil law, but in "poetry,
especially in the vernacular."

[Footnote 1: For a full discussion of all that may be known of Dante
at the Poleata court see Dr. Ricci's large work, _L'Ultimo Rifugio di
Dante_ (1891). A charming book in English, _Dante in Ravenna_ (1898),
by Catherine Mary Phillimore, is to a great extent based upon Dr.
Ricci's work. A valuable book that should be consulted is the more
recent volume by P.H. Wicksteed and E.G. Gardner, _Dante and Giovanni
del Virgilio_ (1902).]

It is quite unproved then that Dante lectured in Ravenna as a
professor of Civil Law. It might seem equally certain that he did
lecture upon Poetry and the vulgar tongue, and it seems likely that we
have the text of his lectures in the latter if not in the earlier part
of the _De Vulgari Eloquentia_ "in which in masterly and polished
Latin he reproves all the vulgar dialects of Italy." Boccaccio tells
us he composed this when he was "already nigh his death," and though
modern criticism seems inclined to date its composition not later than
1306 the evidence of Boccaccio is not lightly to be set aside[1].

[Footnote 1: The first part of this work was certainly not written
later than 1306 the second part may well have been later.]

Lonely as he doubtless was in Ravenna he was not alone there. With him
it would seem was his daughter Beatrice, who became a nun in S.
Stefano dell' Uliva, and his sons Pietro and Jacopo. The latter,
though a lawyer and not in holy orders, held two benefices in Ravenna,
but most of his time seems to have been spent in Verona where Jacopo,
his brother, later held a canonry. And then there were his friends.

In his lectures upon Poetry one of his most eager pupils would seem to
have been his best friend and host, Guido Novello, who evidently knew
well at least those parts of the _Divine Comedy_, chiefly the
_Inferno_ be it noted, which deal with his ancestors, for he quotes
one of the most famous of them--an unforgettable line spoken by his
aunt Francesca da Rimini:

"Questi che mai da me non fia diviso."

in a sonnet of his own[2].

[Footnote 2: Cf. _Ultimo Rifugio_, p. 384, where the sonnet is given
in full.]

After the lord Guido Novello, we must name the archbishop of Ravenna,
Rainaldo Concorreggio, as among Dante's friends. It is possible that
he had known Dante at the University of Bologna and he had been a
chaplain of Boniface VIII. He was a brave man, learned in theology,
law, and music, and devoted to his religion, an eager student, and he
had composed a treatise which has come down to us upon Galla Placidia
and her church.

And then there was Giotto who came to paint if not in S. Maria in
Porto fuori, certainly in S. Giovanni Evangelista. He was Dante's dear
friend and it was probably at the poet's suggestion he had been
invited to Ravenna. We do not know whether these two men attended
Dante's lectures. But the true audience there which came simply to
hear was probably various, consisting of poets, notaries, and all
sorts of men, some of whom were Dante's friends and companions. There
was Ser Dino Perini, Ser Pietro di Messer Giardino--he was a
notary--and Fiduccio dei Milotti, who walked with Dante in the Pineta.
All these names have come down to us in the Latin eclogues written by
Dante while in Ravenna to his friend Giovanni del Virgilio--del
Virgilio because he could so well imitate Virgil.

These eclogues are full of shrewd and curious thought, a real
correspondence, and they help us to see the men who surrounded the
poet in Ravenna. They do not, however, give us so extraordinary an
impression of the strength and keenness of Dante's powers of
observation as many a passage in the _Divine Comedy_ in which Ravenna
and the rude and fierce world of the Romagna of that day live for
ever. It is in answer to the inquiries of the great _Guido of
Montefeltro_ that Dante speaks of Romagna in the _Inferno_. Feeble and
anaemic though the great lines become in any translation, even so all
their virtue is not lost:

"Never was thy Romagna without war
In her proud tyrants' bosoms, nor is now;
But open war there left I none. The state
Ravenna hath maintained this many a year
Is steadfast. There Polenta's eagle[1] broods,
And in his broad circumference of plume
O'ershadows Cervia[2]. The green talons[3] grasp
The land, that stood e'erwhile the proof so long
And piled in bloody heap the host of France.
The old mastiff of Verrucchio and the young[4]
That tore Montagna[5] in their wrath still make
Where they are wont, an augre of their fangs,
Lamone's[6] city and Santerno's[7] range
Under the lion of the snowy lair[8],
Inconstant partisan, that changeth sides
Or ever summer yields to winter's frost.
And she whose flank is washed of Savio's wave[9]
As 'twixt the level and the steep she lies,
Lives so 'twixt tyrant power and liberty."

[Footnote 1: The coat of the Polenta.]

[Footnote 2: Cervia, the least secure of the Polenta possessions.]

[Footnote 3: The green lion of the Ordelaffi of Forli.]

[Footnote 4: Malatesta and Malatestino, lords of Rimini, deriving from
Verrucchio, a castle in the hills.]

[Footnote 5: The Malatesta were Guelfs, Montagna de' Parcitati, whom
they murdered, was the leader of the Ghibelline party in Rimini.]

[Footnote 6: Faenza.]

[Footnote 7: Imola.]

[Footnote 8: Maghinardo Pagano, whose arms were a blue lion in a white

[Footnote 9: Cesena.]

All Romagna with its untamable fierceness and confusion lies in these
lines which, as Dante wrote them, seem as unalterable as those in
which the creation of the world is described.

Nor is Dante forgetful of the great destiny that had been Ravenna's.
In the sixth canto of the _Paradiso_ it is Justinian himself, "_Cesare
fui e son Giustiniano_" who recounts to Dante the victories of the
Roman eagle:

"When from Ravenna it came forth and leap'd
The Rubicon,"

or when

"with Belisarius
Heaven's high hand was linked,"

or when

"The Lombard tooth with fang impure
Did gore the bosom of the Holy Church
Under its wings, victorious, Charlemagne
Sped to her rescue."

Nor is Dante forgetful of Ravenna's other claims to glory. In the
seventh heaven, which is the planet Saturn, led by Beatrice, he finds
S. Romualdo, and speaks of S. Peter Damiano, and blessed Peter _Il
Peccatore_, the founder of the church of S. Maria in Porto fuori, two
of them of the Onesti house of Ravenna.

"In that place was I Peter Damiano
And Peter the sinner dwelt in the house
Of our blest Lady on the Adriatic shore."

Of the earlier Podesta, too, he is not unmindful:

"Arrigo Mainardi, Pier Traversaro,...
Wonder not, Tuscan, if thou seest me weep
When I recall those once loved names ...
With Traversaro's house and Anastagio's,
Each race disinherited."

With the pitiful story of Francesca da Polenta we have seen how he
dealt and how he spoke of Guido Vecchio. These people live because of
him, and Ravenna in the Middle Age still holds our interest and our
love because he dwelt there and she harboured him.

It was in her service, too, he met his death as we have seen, and in
her church of the Friars Minor that he was laid to rest by Guido

Nine months later the lord of Ravenna received the first complete copy
of the _Divina Commedia_, made by Jacopo Alighieri from his father's
autograph. A very curious incident is related by Boccaccio in
connection with this. It was Dante's custom, Boccaccio tell us,
"whenever he had done six or eight cantos, more or less, to send them
from whatever place he was in before any other had seen them to Messer
Cane della Scala, whom he held in reverence above all other men; and
when he had seen them, Dante gave access to them to whoso desired. And
having sent to him in this fashion all save the last thirteen cantos,
which he had finished, but had not yet sent him, it came to pass that,
without bearing it in his mind that he was abandoning them, he died.
And when they who were left behind, children and disciples, had
searched many times, in the course of many months, amongst all his
papers, if haply he had composed a conclusion to his work, and could
by no means find the remaining cantos; and when every admirer of his
in general was enraged that God had not at least lent him to the world
so long that he might have had opportunity to finish what little
remained of his work; they had abandoned further search in despair
since they could by no means find them.

[Illustration: DANTE'S TOMB]

"So Jacopo and Piero, sons of Dante, both of them poets in rhyme,
moved thereto by certain of their friends, had taken it into their
minds to attempt to supplement the parental work, as far as in them
lay, that it might not remain imperfect, when to Jacopo, who was far
more zealous than the other in this work, there appeared a wondrous
vision, which not only checked his foolish presumption but showed him
where were the thirteen cantos which were wanting to this Divine
Comedy and which they had not known where to find. A worthy man of
Ravenna whose name was Piero Giardino, long time a disciple of
Dante's, related how, when eight months had passed after the death of
his master, the aforesaid Jacopo came to him one night near to the
hour that we call matins, and told him that that same night a little
before that hour he, in his sleep, had seen his father, Dante,
approach him, clad in whitest garment, and his face shining with an
unwonted light; whom he seemed to ask if he were yet living, and to
hear in reply that he was, but in the true life, not in ours. Whereon
he seemed further to ask him if he had finished his work or ever he
passed to that true life; and if he had finished it, where was the
missing part, which they had never been able to find. To this he
seemed to hear again in answer, 'Yea! I finished it.' Whereon it
seemed that he took him by the hand and led him to that chamber where
he was wont to sleep when he was living in this life; and touching a
certain spot said, 'Here is that which ye so long have sought.' And no
sooner was uttered that word than it seemed that both Dante and sleep
departed from him at the same moment. Wherefore he averred that he
could not hold but come and signify what he had seen, that they might
go together and search in the place indicated to him, which he held
most perfectly stamped in his memory, to see whether a true spirit or
a false delusion had shown it him. Wherefore since a great piece of
the night still remained, they departed together and went to the place
indicated, and there found a mat fixed to the wall, which they lightly
raised and found a recess in the wall which neither of them had ever
seen, nor knew that it was there; and there they found certain
writings all mouldy with the damp of the wall and ready to rot had
they stayed there much longer; and when they had carefully removed the
mould and read, they saw that they contained the thirteen cantos so
long sought by them. Wherefore, in great joy, they copied them out,
and after the author's wont sent them first to Messer Cane and then
joined them on, as was meet, to the imperfect work. In such a manner
did the work of so many years see its completion."

As Boccaccio tells us, Guido Novello had scarce buried Dante in that
temporary tomb in the church of the Friars Minor when he lost his
lordship. On April 1, 1322, he was elected captain of the people in
Bologna, and when he was about to return to Ravenna he suddenly heard
that the archbishop had been murdered and that the city was in the
hands of his enemies. Do what he would he never returned to his own
city, and thus his intentions with regard to the tomb of the poet were
never carried out. The noble sepulchre which Guido had planned was not
built and the body of Dante reposed in the ancient sarcophagus in
which it had been first placed. There it remained when Boccaccio came
to Ravenna, probably in 1346 and certainly in 1350, as the bearer of a
gift from the Or San Michele Society to Beatrice di Dante, then a nun
in S. Stefano dell' Uliva.

Boccaccio, it will be remembered, had in his life of Dante bitterly
upbraided Florence for her treatment of her greatest son, and to his
blame had added a prophecy that she would soon repent of her shameful
ingratitude and would envy Ravenna "the body of him whose works have
held the admiration of the whole world." This prophecy fulfilled
itself many times and first in 1396. In that year, upon December 22,
Florence made the first of her many demands for the body of Dante,
which she now wished to bury in S. Maria del Fiore. The demand, as
Boccaccio had foreseen, was refused. It was repeated in 1429 and again
refused. By 1476, when her next attempt was made, Ravenna had passed
into the power of the Venetian Republic. It was therefore to Venice
that Florence now turned through the Venetian ambassador, who is said
to have been none other than Bernardo Bembo.

Bembo's request on behalf of Florence was, of course, a failure, but
he seems to have himself repaired the tomb and to have placed upon it
an epitaph.

"Exigua tumuli Dantes hic sorte jacebas
Squallenti nulli cognite pene situ.
At nunc marmoreo subnixus conderis arcu
Omnibus et cultu splendidiore nites
Nimirum Bembus musis incensus ethruscis
Hoc tibi quem in primis hoc coluere dedit.

Ann Sal. mcccclxxxiii. vi. Kal. Jvn.
Bernardus Bemb. Praet. aere suo Posuit."

His work of reparation and of adornment was carried out by Pietro
Lombardo who was already at work in Ravenna for the Venetian republic,
the sculptured effigy of Dante in relief being also from his hand.

But Florence was by no means at the end of her resources. In 1509
Ravenna had passed into the hands of the pope. In 1519 Leo X., a
Medici, being on the throne of Peter, the Accademia Medicea of
Florence petitioned the pope (among the signatories of the petition
was Michelangelo, who offered to "make a worthy sepulchre for the
divine poet in an honoured place" in Florence), to be allowed to carry
away the bones of Dante from Ravenna to the City of Flowers. The pope
gave the Florentine envoys the permission they required as was
expected. They proceeded to Ravenna and opened the sarcophagus; but
when they lifted the lid, they found it empty, save for "a fragment of
bone and a few withered leaves of the laurel which had adorned the
poet's head." From that time till our own day the resting place of
Dante's bones has been a complete mystery.

It is recorded that in the middle of the seventeenth century the
Franciscans rebuilt and repaired the so-called chapel of Braccioforte
at S. Francesco, which till then had been joined by a portico to the
tomb of Dante. In 1658 this portico among other alterations was
removed, and the exterior of the tomb itself was reconstructed with an
entrance into the Piazza, as we see it. The interior of the tomb was,
however, left in some confusion so that the papal legate determined
himself to repair it. In this he met with much opposition from the
friars who claimed, as of old, jurisdiction over the sepulchre.
Nevertheless he completed the work, and in 1692 placed the following
upon the tomb:

Exulem a Florentia Dantem Liberalissime
Excepit Ravenna.
Vivo fruens Mortuum colens
Magnis cineribus licet in parvo magnifici parentarunt
Polentani Principes erigendo
Bembus Praetor Luculentissime extruendo
Praetiosum Musis et Apollini Mausoleum
Quod injuria temporum pene squallens
E. mo Dominico Maria Cursio Legato
Joanne Salviato Prolegato
Magni civis cineres Patriae reconciliare
Cultus perpetuitate curantibus
S. P. Q. R.
Jure Ac Aere suo
Tanquam Thesaurum suum munivit
Instauravit ornavit

Outside the tomb he placed his coat-of-arms, and on either side that
of the legate of the province and that of the Franciscan Order. In
1760 the third restoration was undertaken and the tomb assumed the
form we now see and was given yet another inscription:

Danti Aleghiero
Poetae sui temporis primo
Politioris humanitatis
Guido et Hostasius Polentiani
clienti et hospiti peregre defuncto
monumentum fecerunt
Bernardus Bembus Praetor Venet. Ravenn.
Pro meritis eius ornatu excoluit.
Aloysius Valentius Gonzaga Card.
Leg. prov. Aemil.
Superiorum Temporum negligentia corruptum
Operibus ampliatis
Munificentia sua restituendum

At the same time the tomb was opened again and was found to be empty.
In spite of this fact in 1864 the municipal authorities in Florence
wrote to Ravenna again demanding the body of the poet, only to be
again refused. This, however, was the sixth centenary of Dante's birth
and the sarcophagus was again to be opened to "verify the remains."
The workmen were indeed at work upon some necessary repairs and
draining, when it was found that a part of the wall of the
Braccioforte chapel would have to be removed. In setting to work upon
this--little more than the removal of a few stones--the pickaxe of one
of the workmen struck against wood, and presently a wooden box
appeared which partly fell to pieces, revealing a human skeleton.
Within the box was found this inscription:

Dantis ossa
Denuper revisa die 3 Junu

Dantis ossa
A me Fre Antonio Santi
hic posita
Ano 1677 die 18 Octobris

Medical experts were summoned. They made, Miss Phillimore tells us, "a
careful examination of the bones, and proceeded to reconstruct the
skeleton.... The stature answered to that of the poet as nearly as the
measurement of a skeleton can represent the living form, and the skull
found in the chest corresponded exactly with the mask taken from
Dante's face immediately after his death, which was brought from
Florence for the purpose of making this comparison."

What seems to have happened has been made clear for us by Dr. Ricci.
Between 1483, when Bembo reconstructed the tomb, and 1520, when the
Florentines again claimed the body, and for the first time with a
certainty of success, the body of Dante disappeared. It seems that in
1520 the Franciscans entered the mausoleum, abstracted the body, and
hid it to save it for Ravenna. In June 1677 Fra Antonio visited the
bones in their hiding place and verified them. In October of the same
year they were built into the new wall where the old entrance to the
Braccioforte chapel had been; to be discovered by chance in 1865.

It is curious that even as the last cantos of the _Divine Comedy_ were
discovered by means of a dream, so a dream went before the discovery
of the bones of Dante.

"The sacristan of the Franciscan confraternity," we read, "called La
Confraternita della Mercede, was wont to sleep in the damp recesses of
the ancient chapel of Braccioforte." His name was Angelo Grillo ...
This sacristan declared himself to have seen in a dream a shade issue
from the spot where the body was found, clad in red, that it passed
through the chapel into the adjoining cemetery. It approached him, and
on being asked who it was, replied, 'I am Dante.' The sacristan died
in May 1865, a few days before the discovery of the bones on the 27th
of that month. Upon June 26, 1865, the bones of Dante were replaced in
their original sarcophagus, ornamented by Pietro Lombardi, after
having lain in state for three days, during which thousands from all
over Italy passed before them. There it is to be hoped they will





When we come to examine what is left to us of mediaeval Ravenna, of
the buildings which were erected there during the Middle Age, we shall
find, as we might expect, very little that is either great or
splendid, for, as we have seen, after the first year of the ninth
century Ravenna fell from her great position and became nothing more
than a provincial city, perhaps more inaccessible than any other in
the peninsula. Her achievement such as it was in the earlier mediaeval
period consisted in the production of three men of real importance, S.
Romuald of the Onesti family of Ravenna, who was born in the city
about the year 956 and who founded, as we know, the Order of
Camaldoli; S. Peter Damian, who was born there about 988; and Blessed
Peter of Ravenna, Pietro degli Onesti, called _Il Peccatore_, of the
same stock as S. Romuald.

The work of S. Romuald was a reform of the Benedictine Order. The
Order of Camaldoli which he founded was the second reform which had
come out of the great brotherhood of S. Benedict; it was younger than
the Cluniac but older than the Cistercian reform, and it was begun in
1012. In that year S. Romuald, who was a Benedictine abbot, having
been dismissed by all the houses over which he had successively ruled,
for they would not bear the penitential strictness of his government,
founded a hermitage at Camaldoli above the upper valley of the Arno
called the Casentino. There each monk lived in a separate dwelling,
all being enclosed in a great wall some five hundred and thirty yards
about, beyond which the monks were forbidden to go. They followed the
Rule of S. Benedict, kept two Lents in the year, and never tasted
meat. They had, of course, a church in common where they were bound to
recite the divine office, for this is of the essence of the Rule of S.
Benedict, but certain among them--and this is the essence of the
reform of Camaldoli--never quitted their cells, their food being
brought to them in their huts, where, if the lecluse were a priest, he
said his Mass, assisted by some one close by but not in the same room.
Thus we see the monks and the hermits living side by side, but
scarcely together, and so they continued from the year 1012 till our
own day, which has seen the great Camaldoli suppressed. The device of
the order was a cup or chalice out of which two doves drank,
representing thus the two classes of hermits and monks, the
contemplative and the active life.

[Illustration: Colour Plate S. MARIA IN PORTO]

The second great Ravennese of the Middle Age, S. Peter Damian, who was
born about 988 in Ravenna, of a good but at that time poor family, was
the youngest of many children. He was early left an orphan, and living
in his brother's house was treated, it would appear, rather as a beast
than a man. Presently, however, another brother, then archpriest of
Ravenna, took pity on him and had him educated, first at Faenza but
after at Parma, where he studied under a famous master. Here he became
immersed in the religious life so that when two monks belonging to
Fonte Avellana, "a desert at the foot of the Apennines in Umbria,"
happened to call at the place of his abode he followed them. After a
life of penitence and hardship, in 1057 pope Stephen IX. prevailed
upon him to quit his desert and made him cardinal-bishop of Ostia, and
later pope Nicholas II. sent him to Milan as his legate, till in 1062
the successor of Nicholas allowed him to return to his solitude; but
in 1063 he was sent to France as papal legate. Later we find him as
papal ambassador in Ravenna--this in 1072. He was then a very old man,
and on his way back to Rome he died at Faenza.

This famous saint has often been confused with the third great
Ravennese of this time, Pietro degli Onesti, called Pietro _Il
Peccatore_[1] This confusion, which Dante disposes of in the
well-known passage of the _Paradiso_:

"In quel loco fui 10, Pier Damiano,
e Pietro Peccator fu nella casa
Di nostra Donna in sul lito Adriano,"[2]

is commented upon in one of Boccaccio's letters to his friend
Petrarch.[3] It is true both Peters were of Ravenna, but whereas
Blessed Pietro _Il Peccatore_ was of the Onesti family, as was S.
Romuald, S. Pietro Damiano was not; the last died in 1072 at Faenza as
we have seen, the first as we may think in 1119.

[Footnote 1: It is I confess doubtful whether Pietro degli Onesti was
ever called _Il Peccatore_ till a later epoch. The authenticity of the
letters in which he so styles himself is open to question and the
inscription on his tomb is it seems of the fifteenth century.]

[Footnote 2: _Paradiso_, xxi. 121-123. "In quel loco" refers to Fonte

[Footnote 3: Cf. Corazzini, _Lettere edite ed inedite di Giovanni
Boccaccio_ (Firenze, 1877), p. 307.]

Now though all were famous and all were of Ravenna it is the last and
I suppose the least of them who is most closely connected with the
city. The others went away and won, not only great place in the world,
but an everlasting fame. Blessed Pietro _Il Peccatore_ stayed in
Ravenna and built there outside the walls in the marsh between Ravenna
and Classe the great home of Our Lady, S. Maria in Porto fuori. About
the middle of the eleventh century, Dr Ricci tells us, certain
religious retired into the solitude by the shore of the Adriatic and
there built a little church or oratory that was called S. Maria _in
fossula_. In this act we may certainly see the example of S. Romuald.
But about 1096 there joined himself to them Pietro degli Onesti called
_Il Peccatore_, and perhaps because he was of the Onesti he built
there a new and a larger church, it is said in fulfilment of a vow
made, as was Galla Placidia's, in a storm at sea. It is this church
which in great part we still see, with additions of the thirteenth
century, a lonely and beautiful thing in the emptiness of the sodden
fields to the south-east of Ravenna between the Canale del Molino and
the Fiumi Uniti.

The lonely and melancholy church of S. Maria in Porto fuori is a
basilica consisting of three naves which formed a part of the original
church of the Blessed Pietro, and a presbytery, apse, and chapels
which are of the thirteenth century. There we see some frescoes of a
very beautiful and early character which have been erroneously
attributed to Giotto, and as erroneously it might seem to Peter of


They were the gift of a certain Graziadeo, a notary who in 1246
provided the cost of the work, which was carried out it would seem by
Maso da Faenza (1314), Rastello da Forll (1350-60), Giovanni da
Ravenna (1368-96), and other painters of the Romagnuol school.[1]
These works, which are among the loveliest we have of the school, may
be noted as follows: in the nave to the left we see the Madonna and
Child with four saints; here, too, is S. Julian. Upon the triumphal
arch we see in the midst the Saviour and on the one side Antichrist
and the martyrdom of the saints, on the other the defeat and end of
Antichrist who is beheaded by angels. Beneath are scenes of Paradise
and Hell. On the roof of the choir we see the Evangelists with their
symbols and the Doctors of the Church. Upon the right the Death,
Assumption, and Coronation of the Blessed Virgin, together with the
Massacre of the Innocents and the Last Supper and perhaps S. Francis
and S. Clare. Upon the left we have the Birth and Presentation of the
Blessed Virgin in the Temple. The last two figures upon the right here
are said to be portraits of Giotto and Guido da Polenta by those who
attribute these works to the Florentine master. In the chapel on the
left we see pope John I. before Theodoric, pope John in prison, and in
the lunette the martyrdom of a saint. Close by are other frescoes
repainted of S. Apollinaris and S. Antony Abbot. In the chapel on the
right we see perhaps S. John baptising a king, S. John preaching, and
Blessed Pietro _Il Peccatore_ healing the blind and sick. Here too
would appear to be scenes from the life of S. Matthew, but unhappily
the subjects are all of them obscure and difficult to interpret. At
the end of the apse we see the three Maries at the Sepulchre and the
Incredulity of S. Thomas.

[Footnote 1: Cf. Dr. Ricci, _Guida di Ravenna_ (Bologna, fourth
edition), and see Anselmi, _Memorie del Pittore Trecentista Petrus da
Rimini_ in _La Romagna_ (1906), vol. III. fasc. Settembre.]

Of these majestic but spoilt works undoubtedly the noblest in design
is that of the Death of the Blessed Virgin. The Last Supper is also
exceedingly beautiful, and the Incredulity of S. Thomas is a splendid
piece of work. But in the course of ages these latter works especially
have suffered grievously, as of course has the whole church.

Built in the marsh it has sunk so deeply into it that its pillars are
covered half way up, and the church seems always about to be wholly
engulfed. It was called S. Maria in Porto because it was originally
built near to the famous Port that Augustus Casar had established and
which for so long was the headquarters of the eastern fleet. In the
sixteenth century when the Canons Regular of the Lateran, who then
served it, were compelled to abandon it, they built within the city of
Ravenna another church which they named after that they had left, S.
Maria in Porto. Thereafter the old church without the walls was known
as S. Maria in Porto fuori.

The mighty tower which rises beside S. Maria in Porto fuori has been
thought to be in part the famous Pharos of which Pliny speaks.[1] It
is almost certainly founded upon it, but the lower part in its huge
strength is, as we see it, a work of the end of the twelfth century,
as is the lofty campanile which rises from it.

[Footnote 1: See _supra_, p. 24.]

S. Maria in Porto fuori is undoubtedly the greatest monument that
remains to Ravenna of the Middle Age; nothing really comparable with
it is to be found in the city itself.

The earliest of the friars' churches, those great monuments of the
Middle Age in Italy, is S. Chiara which with its convent is now
suppressed and lost in the Recovero di Mendicita (Corso Garibaldi,
19). This convent, which dates certainly from 1255, was founded by
Chiara da Polenta and was rebuilt in 1794. It is from its garden that
we get our best idea of the church which within possesses frescoes of
the Romagnuol school, where in the vault we see the four Evangelists
with their symbols and the four Doctors of the Church. Upon the walls
we see a spoiled fresco of the Presepio, that peculiarly Franciscan
subject, and again the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Magi, the
Baptism of Our Lord, Christ in the Garden, the Crucifixion, and
various saints. These frescoes are the work of the men who painted in
S. Maria in Porto fuori.

It cannot have been much later that the church of S. Pier Maggiore, of
which I have already spoken,[2] came into Franciscan hands, and
certainly from 1261 it was called S. Francesco, when the archbishop
Filippo Fontana handed it over to the Conventuals who held it till
1810. Its chief mediseval interest lies for us of course in the fact
that Dante was buried, probably at his own desire, within its
precincts. But there are other things too. Close to the entrance door
is a slab of red Verona marble dated 1396, which is the tomb of
Ostasio da Polenta who was a Tertiary of the Franciscan Order, and was
therefore buried in the habit of the friars. The figure carved there
in relief to represent Ostasio is evidently a portrait and a very fine
and noble piece of work. To the left, again, is another slab of red
Verona marble which marks the tomb of the General of the Franciscan
Order, Padre Enrico Alfieri, who died of fever in Ravenna in 1405. The
fine Renaissance pilasters in the Cappella del Crocefisso should be
noted, and the beautiful sixteenth-century monument of Luffo Numai by
Tommaso Flamberti at the end of the left aisle.

[Footnote 2: See _supra_, pp. 174 _et seq_.]

The Dominicans have not been more fortunate than the Franciscans.
Somewhat to the north of the Piazza Venti Settembre in the Via Cavour
we find their church S. Domenico. It is said that originally there
stood here a Byzantine church dedicated in honour of S. Maria
Callopes, but this Dr. Ricci denies. S. Domenico was built from its
foundations it seems in October 1269 for the Dominicans and was
enlarged in 1374 according to an inscription in the sacristy; but it
was almost entirely rebuilt in the beginning of the eighteenth
century. The facade and the side portico are perhaps now the most
genuine parts of the church. The chief treasure is, however, not of
the Middle Age at all, but of the Renaissance, and consists of four
large pictures painted in tempera, probably organ shutters,
representing the Annunciation, S. Peter Martyr, and S. Dominic. They
are the excellent work of Niccold Rondinelli the pupil of Giovanni

[Footnote 1: See _infra_, pp. 267 _et seq_.]

[Illustration: TORRE DEL COMUNE]

From S. Domenico we pass again to S. Giovanni Evangelista if only to
note the beautiful Gothic portal of the fourteenth century, of which I
have already spoken,[2] and the spoiled frescoes by Giotto in the
vaulting of the fourth chapel on the left. Giotto, according to
Vasari, came to Ravenna at the instigation of Dante and painted in S.
Francesco, but whatever he may have done there has utterly perished,
and there only remains in Ravenna his spoilt work in this little
chapel in S. Giovanni Evangelista. Here we see in a ceiling divided by
two diagonals, at the centre of which the Lamb and Cross are painted
on a medallion, the four Evangelists enthroned with their symbols and
the four Doctors of the Church, a subject common everywhere and
especially so in Ravenna. These works have suffered very greatly from
restoration, but they seem indeed to be the work of the master in so
far as the design is concerned, all surely that is left after the
repaintings that have befallen them.

[Footnote 2: See _supra_, pp. 175 _et seq_.]

The mosaic pavements of 1213, representing scenes from the third
crusade, in the chapel to the left of the choir should be noted.

We must not leave S. Giovanni Evangelista without a look at the great
tower of the eleventh century which overshadows it. It might seem to
be contemporary with the greater Torre Comunale in the Via Tredici
Giugno as the street is now absurdly named. Nor should any one omit to
visit the Casa Polentana near Porta Ursicina and the Casa Traversari
in the Via S. Vitale, grand old thirteenth-century houses that speak
to us, not certainly of Ravenna's great days, but of a greater day
than ours, and one, too, in which the most tragic of Italians wandered
up and down these windy ways eating his heart out for Florence. Indeed
Dante consumes all our thoughts in mediaeval Ravenna.

There is a tale told by Franco Sacchetti that I will set down here,
for it expresses what in part we must all feel, and what in the
confusion of philosophy at the end of the Middle Age was felt far more
keenly by men who visited this strange city.

"Maestro Antonio of Ferrara was a man of very great parts, almost a
poet, and as entertaining as a jester, but he was very vicious and
sinful. Being in Ravenna during the time that Messer Bernardino of
Polenta held the lordship, it chanced that this Messer Antonio, who
was a very great gambler, had been gambling one day and had lost
nearly all he possessed. Being in despair, he entered the church of
the Friars Minor, where there is the tomb which holds the body of the
Florentine poet Dante, and having seen an antique Crucifix half-burned
and smoked by the great number of lights placed around it, and finding
just then many candles lighted there, he immediately went and took all
the tapers and candles which were burning there and going to the tomb
of Dante he placed them before it saying, 'Take them, for thou art far
more worthy of them than it is.' The people beholding this and
marvelling greatly said, 'What doth this man?' And they all looked at
one another...."


Sacchetti does not answer the question asked by the astonished people
of Ravenna, but goes on to tell us of the lord "who delighted in such
things as do all lords." He could not have answered it for he did not
know himself what it meant. We are in better case, I think, and know
that what that wild and half--blasphemous act meant was that the
Renaissance had made an end of the Middle Age here in Ravenna as

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