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E05780: Agnellus of Ravenna, in his Liber Pontificalis Ecclesiae Ravennatis, quotes a 6th c. Latin inscription which refers to the creation of mosaics depicting the Apostles in the baptistry of the basilica Ursiana, now the 'Orthodox Baptistery', in Ravenna (northern Italy) in 450/73. These mosaics survive today. Account written in Latin in Ravenna in 830/46.

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posted on 2018-06-19, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
Agnellus of Ravenna, Liber Pontificalis Ecclesiae Ravennatis 28

Fontes Vrsianae ecclesiae pulcherrime decorauit; musiua et auratis tessellis apostolorum imagines et nomina camera circumfinxit, parietes promiscuis lapidibus cinxit.

‘He (Neon) decorated the baptistery of the Ursiana church most beautifully: he set up in mosaic and gold tesserae the images of the Apostles and their names in the vault, he girded the side-walls with different types of stone.’

Neon’s involvement is attested by an inscription, which Agnellus provides:

Cede, uetus nomen, nouitati cede uetustas!
Pulchrius ecce nitet renouati gloria Fontis.
Magnanimus hunc namque Neon summus que sacerdos
Excoluit, pulchro componens omnia cultu.

'Yield, old name, yield, age, to newness! Behold the glory of the renewed font shines more beautifully. For generous Neon, highest priest, has adorned it, arranging all things in beautiful refinement.'

The images of the Apostles survive until this day. They depict twelve apostles, dressed in gold and white, against a blue background. Their portraits are arranged like spokes on a wheel around a central medallion depicting Christ’s baptism by *John (the Baptist, S00020) in the river Jordan – alongside a personification of the river. Each apostle carries a crown. *Peter (S00036) and *Paul (S00008) are clearly identifiable underneath Christ's feet. None of the apostles are haloed. All the apostles are labelled, but these labels are not clear today.

Text: Deliyannis 2006. Translation: Deliyannis 2004, modified.


Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Ravenna Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Agnellus of Ravenna

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Renovation and embellishment of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


Agnellus of Ravenna (ob. c. 846) was a deacon of the cathedral in Ravenna and – by hereditary right – abbot of two monasteries in Ravenna. He wrote his Liber Pontificalis Ecclessiae Ravennatis between 830 and 846, following the model of the Roman Liber Pontificalis. This work provides biographies of all the bishops of Ravenna from the legendary founder bishop Apollinaris to those active in Agnellus’ own day, and was originally composed to be delivered orally, most likely to clerics of Ravenna. This text is preserved in two manuscripts: one from the 15th c. (Bibliotec Estense Cod. Lat. 371 X.P.4.9.) and a fragmentary manuscript from the 16th c. (MS Vat. Lat. 5834). Agnellus bases his account of the lives of late antique bishops on documents preserved in Ravenna, stories which had been transmitted orally, and his own experience of the architectural landscape of 9th c. Ravenna. Agnellus' work contains invaluable architectural and art historical information about Ravenna: Agnellus refers to several religious buildings in Ravenna and the neighbouring settlements of Caeserea and Classe. He describes their decoration and preserves several inscriptions, many of which are now lost to us. It must be remembered this is a 9th c. work. Agnellus’ descriptions of buildings and their fixtures is based on his 9th c. experience, and not late antique reality. Indeed, his accounts of the events of earlier years are often riddled with inaccuracies. Yet it is likely that his descriptions of the churches of Ravenna are more trustworthy. As Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis argues, a comparison of surviving late antique mosaics with Agnellus’ account suggests that his descriptions were largely accurate. This is limited to what he does tell us – for example Arian foundations are often ignored whilst orthodox foundations are emphasised. Yet, overall, this text provides invaluable information about the cult of saints in late antique Ravenna.


The extent to which this baptistry and the Arian baptistry (E06018) – which was built around the same time – reflect the doctrinal convictions of their founders has been debated. The composition in both is remarkably similar: in both mosaics twelve apostles are depicted circling a medallion. In this medallion, Christ is baptised by John the Baptist and flanked by a personification of the River Jordan. Yet, for example, the Apostles in the Arian baptistry all face an unoccupied throne: perhaps this reflects the honour owed to God the father – in Arian thought - above the human Christ? But it is easy to read too much into these differences: the most striking thing about the two mosaics is the similarity between the two images. Indeed, as Sam Barber has highlighted, the two mosaics would never be viewed together, but on separate occasions which could likely be months apart. It is possible that Arian or Orthodox convictions determined the composition of these two mosaics, but it is equally possible that they are – to use Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis’ phrase – 'theologically neutral'.


Text: Deliyannis, Deborah Mauskopf, Agnelli Ravennatis Liber pontificalis ecclesiae Ravennatis (Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 199; Turnhout, 2006). Translation: Deliyannis, Deborah Mauskopf, The Book of Pontiffs of the Church of Ravenna (Washington D.C., 2004). Further Reading: Barber, Sam, "Defining Difference or Connecting Spaces? Similarity and Meaning in the Arian Baptistery, Ravenna," in: M. Boulton, J. Hawkes, and H. Stoner (eds.), Place and Space in the Medieval World (New York, 2018), 149-158. Deichmann, Friedrich Wilhelm, Ravenna, Hauptstadt des spätantiken Abendlandes, vol. 1-3, (Wiesbaden, 1958-89). Deliyannis, Deborah Mauskopf, Ravenna in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, 2010). Mackie, Gillian, Early Christian Chapels in the West: Decoration, Function and Patronage (Toronto, 2003). Moffat, Ann, "Sixth Century Ravenna from the Perspective of Abbot Agnellus," in: P. Allen and E.M. Jeffreys (eds,), The Sixth Century – End or Beginning? (Brisbane, 1996), 236-246. Morini, E., "Le strutture monastische a Ravenna," in: Storia di Ravenna, 2.2, Dall’età bizantia all’ età ottania, ed. A. Carile (Ravenna, 1992), 305-312. Schoolman, Edward, Rediscovering Sainthood in Italy: Hagiography and the Late Antique Past in Medieval Ravenna (Basingstoke, 2016). Stansterre, J. M., "Monaci e monastery greci a Ravenna," in: Storia di Ravenna, 2.1, Dall’età bizantia all’ età ottania, ed. A. Carile (Ravenna, 1992), 323-329. Verhoeven, Mariëtte, The Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna: Transformations and Memory (Turnhout, 2011).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity