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Apollinaris – A Saint and his city

Saint Apollinaris

On the 23rd of July, Ravenna celebrates Saint Apollinaris, the city’s first bishop and its patron saint.

The sources tell us that Apollinaris, a native of Syria, was sent to this part of Italy by Saint Peter, specifically to Classe due to its significant presence of Easterners engaged in the activities of the commercial port.

The statue of Saint Apollinaris, Piazza del Popolo (Ravenna)
The statue of Saint Apollinaris, Piazza del Popolo (Ravenna) | Photo ©

The history and the cult of Saint Apollinaris are closely linked to the history of Ravenna. His statue is placed on top of one of the two Venetian-era columns in Piazza del Popolo, two basilicas from the 5th and 6th century are consecrated to him and have been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites.

On the one hand there is Sant’Apollinare in Classe, which was the first to guard his mortal remains; on the other, there is Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, an older building which was originally the palatial basilica of the Gothic king Theodoric, and which was later consecrated to him in the 9th century, following the end of the dominion of the Byzantines and Lombards over Ravenna.

Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (Ravenna)
Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (Ravenna)

The figure of the Saint still shines today in the center position of the apse mosaics of Classe, which set a model that would be handed down throughout time, giving rise to monuments, works of art, artcrafts, and decorative and liturgical devices.

His figure appears in numerous altarpieces, housed within churches and museums of Ravenna, as proof of a devotion that has strengthened over the centuries.

During the Medieval period, the cult of Saint Apollinaris was enriched thanks to Northern European cities, when a diaspora of his relics departed from Ravenna, through France, the Netherlands and Germany.

Today Apollinaris is the patron saint of Düsseldorf , which celebrates him around July 23rd with the largest fair on the Rhine river, which had its first edition in the first years of the 14th century.

Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe (Ravenna)
Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe | Photo © Giacomo Banchelli (Archivio Fotografico Comune di Ravenna)

The journeys of the saint and his remains, arrived as far as France, the Netherlands and Germany, narrate an ancient story highlighting how apparently distant people and cities in the Mediterranean and in Europe were actually really close to each other.



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By the Local Editorial Staff

Publication date:20 May 2018
Revision date:30 May 2022