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Neonian Baptistery

Religious building, Ravenna

Neonian Baptistery: Attraction informations

When the Neonian Baptistery, also called Orthodox baptistery, was built, Ravenna hosted two different religions in peaceful cohabitation: the Orthodox and the Aryans, each of them with its own cathedral and baptistery.

The construction of the Neonian Baptistery started in the beginning of the 5th Century, when the bishop’s seat was transferred from the city of Classe to Ravenna. It was commissioned under Bishop Urso, who also commissioned the Cathedral of Ravenna (that stands next to the Baptistery and is in fact called “Ursinian”) and its structure and internal decorations were finished under Bishop Neon, around 475 d.C. It is to Bishop Neon that the baptistery owes its name.

The Neonian Baptistery shows an octagonal shape. Eight was a number that repeated itself frequently in sacred buildings, linked to the concepts of infinity and resurrection.

The exterior of the brick building is certainly humble and in deep contrast with the richness of its interior, as if witnessing the importance, for the religious doctrine, of nurturing the soul rather than the body.

The interior and the mosaic decorations

A big octagonal baptismal font, made of Greek marble and porphyry, stands out. The font was probably used for baptism by immersion, a rite in which adults were fully immersed three times to purify themselves from sin and join the religious community.

Once inside the building it is easy to remain mesmerized by the extraordinary mosaic decoration. At the centre of the richly decorated dome, a big medallion frames the Baptism of Christ: the son of God immersed in the waters of the river Jordan, surrounded by the 12 apostles in two lines, led by Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Thrones and altars are depicted around the main scene. While the altars represent the connection with the eternal city, the thrones symbolize the place reserved to worshippers who will be welcomed in heaven. The internal walls are decorated with 2 lines of overlapping arches, built with precious marble and embellished by amazing stucco. 

Both the Baptistery and the Cathedral are currently slightly decentralised in relation to the town’s centre. Nothing to be surprised of, when their construction started the main part of the city was precisely in this area. 

This building, like many others in the city, has suffered the phenomenon of subsidence: the sinking into the ground of the ancient buildings in Ravenna. The current planking level of Ravenna is about 3 metres higher, and to enter the Baptistery it’s necessary to walk some steps down.

Even Carl Gustav Jung, considered with Freud as one of the fathers of psychoanalysis, stopped here to admire the incredible beauty of the place.