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Book I
Note L

This webpage reproduces a section of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

published by the Clarendon Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book I
Chapter 20

Book 1 (continued)

Vol. I
Note M

Bishops and Churches of Ravenna

The history of the Empire at the period which we have now reached is so closely bound up with that of Ravenna, and ecclesiastical events occupy so prominent a place in the annals of that city that it seems necessary to devote a few pages to the Liber Pontificalis of Agnellus, our chief authority for this portion of history. It is undoubtedly a great disadvantage to have to derive our information from a monkish Chronicler who lived four centuries after the time for which we need his guidance. The mosaics, as has been hinted in the text, kept alive the remembrance of the names and the personal appearance of many of the saintly heroes: but the myth-making faculty was active during that morning of the Middle Ages, and many of the quaint legends recorded in the pages of Agnellus may have derived their colour from the Carolingian period rather than the Theodosian. Still with all its deficiencies and all its yet greater redundancies the Liber Pontificalis is a most valuable memorial of what men were thinking and saying in the city by the Ronco in the days of the last Theodosians, of Theodoric and of the Exarch of Ravenna.

The book of Agnellus, which has been preserved from oblivion practically by only one MS. of the fifteenth century, has been admirably edited by Dr. Holder-Egger for the 'Monumenta Germaniae Historica,'​a and this editor has not only prefixed to the work a careful and exhaustive preface as to the life of Agnellus, but has also succeeded in bringing order and harmony into the apparently hopeless chaos of his chronology. I gladly substitute Holder-Egger's well-substantiated conclusions for the conjectures on the same subject, which were somewhat too rashly expressed by me in the first edition of this work.

Agnellus was born about the year 805, of a noble and wealthy  p900 family at Ravenna. He bore also the name of Andreas which he derived from his grandfather, through whom he was descended from a certain Johannicis, poet and secretary of state, who took a leading part in an unsuccessful rebellion of Ravenna against the tyrant Justinian II (709). Agnellus himself was trained as a priest in the Cathedral Church of Ravenna, and when quite a young man was made abbot of two monasteries in that city, a piece of promotion which brought him not only dignity but wealth. One of these monasteries was, however, afterwards taken away (he says without any just cause) by the Bishop of Ravenna (who had formerly been his bosom-friend), but was eventually restored to him.

Agnellus was of short stature but comely face. He had a great flow of words and sang the holy offices more sweetly than a nightingale. He seems to have been a clever nimble-minded man, with some skill in decoration (he himself says that he was 'artificiorum omnium ingeniis plenus') and some knowledge of Greek as well as Latin literature; altogether a man of what seemed extraordinary learning and culture in a very barbarous age. Being apparently the youthful genius of his native city, he was importuned by the other Presbyters of Ravenna to rescue from oblivion the Bishops, nearly fifty in number, who in the course of eight centuries had presided over that important See. He undertook the work, but found the labour so severe that his health suffered therefrom, and he sometimes threw down the pen, doubtful whether he should ever be able to resume it. But the pressure of his colleagues overcame his reluctance, real or feigned. If he found enough material in the memories of the oldest inhabitants, he wrote a long life of an eminent saint; if he found no such material he invented it; if his health was not adequate to the labour of invention, he treated his brethren instead to a disquisition on an obscure text of Scripture, which certainly became obscure when he had handled it sufficiently.

There is a mixture of the pathetic and the ludicrous in the appeals which he sometimes makes to his too persistent friends. Take for instance his life of St. Aurelian, Bishop of Ravenna, from 520 to 521.

'He was an eminent man, young in years, old in wisdom, mild towards the people, courteous towards his flock. . . . But, my dearly beloved, that you may know what heavy burdens you have imposed upon my neck, I have not been able  p901 to learn any facts about this man except that he acquired certain property for the cathedral in the territory of Comacchio . . . and that a monastery was built in his time. But on account of your prayer, that this man's history may not appear too short, I will, with Divine help, relate boldly what my human intellect is quite unable to declare. . . .

'Now you wish that I should proceed. But I am very sick and weak in body, and can do nothing to‑day. To‑morrow, with the Creator's help, I will begin.

[A day intervenes.]

'Oh! do not press me as you did yesterday. Your eloquence has urged me quite enough. Think of the words of Solomon, "He who presseth for words too vehemently squeezeth out blood."

'Remember that this wisdom of mine is not my own but the gift of the Almighty. Ah, wretched me, who am daily pressed with such questions! Do not thus treat me. If you want to have this Liber Pontificalis finished quickly and deposited in your hands, consider your own frailty, and then mine also. To‑day I number six lustres (thirty years) besides two years and six months, whence I quitted my mother's womb. Never have I suffered such tortures, never have I been so constrained as I was by you yesterday. But if it is your pleasure to drag me hither and thither by the ears, to tie my hands behind my back, to lay your strokes upon my breast and my shoulders, I will consent. Do what you will and then leave me alone, and keep what I have already written concerning the Pontiffs of Ravenna: you will hear nothing more from me. I will finish this life of Aurelian, and then be silent ever after. . . .​1

'Remember what I say: I wish you to know that if I leave off this Liber Pontificalis on account of your persecution, a time will come when you will read my half-finished book and will remember with a groan what I am now saying to you. I desire with the help of Almighty God to bring this labour of mine to its proper ending: you, by your too great haste, in fact wish me to leave off. I will not do it. But as I consider that I am your debtor bound to answer that question about the rivers of Etham I will now do it.

 p902  'The Psalmist says, "Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood, thou driedst up the river of Etham." Now let us see why he dried up the river of Etham.'

And then he proceeds at great length to discuss this question, explaining that Etham is another name for the Devil.

The language in which the Liber Pontificalis is written is supposed to be Latin. False concords and barbarisms abound, but the style is fluent and declamatory, formed perhaps on the models of Jerome and Augustine. Every now and then we come upon a quotation (generally in hexameters) from an earlier age, especially from Virgil, and these quoted passages are generally correct enough in metre and in Latinity. The effect produced by their presence here is like that of the classical capitals in the dim aisles and beneath the ecclesiastical mosaics of Sant' Apollinare in Classe.

Still with all his barbarisms there is much that is interesting and characteristic in the work of this Carolingian scribe. The stories of the wool-comber Bishop, Severus, of the hermit who came out of the wilderness accompanied by two tame lions to gaze upon the authentic likeness of the Lord in the Church of St. Peter at Classis, of Bishop John with his Angel Acolyte, and of Peter with the Golden Speech whom the Pope ordained in obedience to a vision, the legend of the Arm of the Mighty One which was figured upon a wall, and which being invoked as witness of a bond compelled a defaulting debtor to come all the way from Constantinople to Ravenna in order to repay his debt — these and many more histories of the same kind bear witness to a mythological faculty, as child-like and sometimes almost as graceful as the similar faculty in earliest Greece.

As to the materials used by Agnellus, they appear to have been chiefly the history of the Lombards by Paulus, and the very valuable but now almost entirely lost Chronicle of Maximian, Bishop of Ravenna (546‑556, or 557). No doubt he also used extensively oral tradition, which was by this time sufficiently vague and abundant in his day, preserving the very colours of the faces of the Bishops and thus enabling him (as has been already said) to prefix to each life a little word-portrait of the saint who was to be commemorated. It is not surprising that in a history  p903 thus composed, the order of the names should be less trustworthy than the names themselves. Moreover, we are told of a certain chasuble at Classis, that served the purpose of a diptych in recording the names of deceased Bishops, which were embroidered on the silk lining and each enclosed in a circle. In one perpendicular line was one series, a line from shoulder to shoulder contained another, round the loins a third series, below the arm‑hole a fourth, and so on. It is easy to see how mistakes as to arrangement might arise from the use of such a document as this.

Agnellus gives with great minuteness the day of the death of his episcopal heroes, but generally omits to mention the year. The memory of the day was no doubt preserved by religious observances in their honour. All the lives end with the words 'He occupied the see of Ravenna ––––– years, ––––– months, and ––––– days:' the years, months, and days filled in. He also gives us very minute and circumstantial information as to the burial-places of his Bishops; and the number of churches, especially at Classis, thus recorded, so many of which have perished without memorial, helps us to understand more vividly all that the three towns once were and how small a part of their art treasures — rich as that residue seems — has been preserved to us.

It will be understood from what has gone before that the Chronology of Agnellus is in a very chaotic state. But some sort of order, as I have said, has at last been brought into the chaos by the latest German editor, and as a knowledge of this chronology is almost indispensable to an intelligent study of the monuments of Ravenna, I will here set down the chief results at which he has arrived, down to the time of the Lombard invasion. As to the first eleven Bishops, we have no means of checking Agnellus' information, and must therefore repeat the names as he gives them. They are —

1. St. Apollinaris, 'the Apostle of Ravenna.'

2. St. Aderitus, 'a holy man, much honoured by Apollinaris.'

3. St. Eleucadius, 'a great philosopher who composed books, both on the Old and New Testament, and on the Incarnation and Passion of Christ.'

4. St. Martianus, 'a man of noble birth, ordained deacon by Apollinaris.'

 p904  5. St. Calocerus, 'a man of advanced age, who wrought many wonderful signs and rescued many souls from the power of the demons.'

6. St. Proculus, 'who expressed himself with honeyed sweetness in his sermons to the people, and handed as it were cups of milk to their thirsting souls. The crown of white hairs was on his head when he ended his episcopate with his life.'

7. St. Probus, 'a meek and pious man, bright in aspect, fervent in work.'

8. St. Dathus, 'a religious and very pious man, and a frequent preacher to the people.'

9. St. Liberius, 'a great man, a never-failing fountain of charity, who brought much honour to the Church.'

10. St. Agapetus, 'whose name in the Latin tongue signifies Charitosus. He daily celebrated love-feasts (Ἀγάπαι) with strangers and assiduously bestowed gifts on the poor.'

11. St. Marcellinus, 'a just man and honoured for his prayers. After a long space of years he ended his life and his pontificate: and his body gave out such sweet odours that most precious myrrh, burnt as incense, seemed to fill the nostrils of those who buried him.'

12. St. Severus, the wool-comber Bishop whose story has been told in the text. His name occurs among the prelates who signed the decrees of the council of Sardica in 344. Notwithstanding a story which connects his death with that of Geminianus, Bishop of Modena (who was still living in 390), it seems probable that Severus was an old man when he was present at Sardica, and that his pontificate ended about the middle of the century.

13. St. Liberius II, 'an eminent man, a father of the orphans and liberal in his alms.'

14. St. Probus II, 'Anointed with Divine grace, and beautiful to look upon, decrepit with age, heavy in body, mirthful in countenance, imbued with heavenly grace, strengthened by God, unto whom he sought perpetually.'

15. St. Florentius, 'a righteous man, father of the poor and guide of the widows.'

16. St. Liberius III, 'a saintly man, goodly in form, clear of mind, with a milk-like flow of eloquence, a destroyer of idols, and one who had the joy of seeing the Christians in his time  p905 visibly increase and the pagans diminish.' He is said to have been a contemporary and an eye‑witness of the assassination of the Emperor Valentinian II, who was really slain not at Ravenna but at Vienne, and all the details are quite incorrectly given.

17. St. Ursus, 'a most chaste and holy man, who had an earnest and noble countenance and was moderately bald. He first began to construct a temple to God, so that the Christians previously scattered about in huts should be collected into one sheepfold.'

Without taking this language about the huts literally, we may accept the fact that St. Ursus was the first to build a really metropolitan church for Ravenna. At this day the Duomo (unfortunately rebuilt in the eighteenth century) bears the name of St. Orso. The original building with its five naves, separated by four rows of columns, fifty‑six in number and all taken from the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, must have been a goodly sight.

Another name for this 'Ecclesia Ursiana' was the Anastasis (Resurrection). The wall on the women's side of the church was decorated with a figure of St. Anastasia. High over all rose a dome (testudo) 'with various coloured tiles representing different figures.'

The Pontiff Ursus lived to see his work completed, and after an episcopate of twenty‑six years 'he laid him down to die on the 13th of April, on the anniversary of Christ's resurrection, and was appropriately buried in his own cathedral of the Anastasis.'

The pontificate of Ursus is assigned by Dr. Holder-Egger (though with some hesitation) to the years between 370 and 396: the dedication of the cathedral to 385.

[18. St. Peter I, 'a most holy man of tall stature, attenuated frame, emaciated countenance and wearing a bushy beard. He together with all his predecessors from the time of St. Apollinaris had been of Syrian extraction' (a strange and inexplicable tradition this, which seems to be alluded to in Sidonius' letter about Ravenna, quoted in the preceding chapter).​2 This Bishop Peter is rejected both by Holder-Egger and by Rubeus the historian of Ravenna, and is believed to owe his existence  p906 to some confusion as to the date of Peter Chrysologus. We accordingly give the number eighteen to his successor.]

18. St. John the Angel-Seer, one of the two great bishops of Ravenna contemporary with Placidia. He appears to have been elected about 418, and to have died at some time between 432 and 440, that being the period during which Pope Sixtus III ruled the Church of Rome. Holder-Egger appears inclined to put his death about 439. As there is thus an unfilled interval between the death of Ursus and the election of John, one is inclined to doubt whether Holder-Egger has not been too hasty in his entire rejection of 'Peter I.'

'John was a man right venerable for his virtue, a nourisher of the poor, a lover of modesty and chastity, one at whose prayer the angelic hosts descended upon earth: of moderate stature and thin face, lean with fasting, a great alms-giver to the poor.

'In his time the Church of St. Laurentius​3 the Martyr, situated in Caesarea, built by Lauricius, was completed. We can still behold from the magnitude of the building what great diligence must have been used in its construction. I think I had better not be silent as to the story which I have heard told concerning the erection of this Church.

'The Emperor Honorius gave his chamberlain Lauricius a sum of money wherewith he was to build him a palace in Caesarea. Having received the money he came to that place and there built [not a palace, but] a Basilica to the Blessed Martyr. Having entirely finished his work he returned to his master, whom he found sitting on his throne in imperial vestments, and who asked him, with much excitement, whether the royal palace which he had ordered him to build were yet completed. (For malevolent men, full of envy and inbred sin, had assailed the ears of the Emperor with their temptations, telling him that the blessed Lauricius was building not an imperial mansion but a church.) The chamberlain answering said, that he had built a great and noble palace, that it had porches and lofty towers, and couches​4 here and there affixed to the very walls of the house.

'So the wrath of the Emperor was quieted, and when, after  p907 a long march, he beheld the building rising in air he was filled with complacency.​5 But when they had actually entered the holy building, Lauricius darted away and took refuge behind the altar. Honorius, after giving orders for his arrest, prostrated himself on the floor of the church. Thereupon a gem of great value fell out of his crown, and became fastened in the stones of the pavement. The Emperor himself passed into an ecstasy, and when he raised his head and the mist had passed away from his eyes he saw behind the altar of St. Laurentius (which the aforesaid Pope John had consecrated) Lauricius standing and Laurentius, Christ's athlete, laying his hand upon Lauricius' shoulder. Then the Emperor laid aside all his wrath, and declaring that Lauricius was a more righteous man than himself he venerated him as a father, and ordered all things in the palace according to his advice. Lauricius lived in the light of this world ninety‑six years, and died in a good old age in the time of the same Emperor,​6 who with his soldiers mourning followed the bier.'

The next story of Emperor and Bishop is one which, whether true or false, was an important factor in the after-history of Ravenna.

'The Emperor Valentinian III,' says Agnellus, 'was so greatly moved by the preaching of the holy man, that he took off his imperial crown in his presence, and with lowly words and reverent gesture, begged his blessing. Having received it he departed with glad countenance, and not many days after he bestowed upon him fourteen cities with their churches, to be governed by him with arch-priestly power. And these fourteen cities with their bishops are to this day subject to the Church of Ravenna. This bishop first received from the Emperor a Pallium of white wool, just such as it is the custom for the Roman Pontiff to wear over the Duplum; and he and his successors have used such a vestment down to the present day.'7

 p908  The historical student will see at a glance how much importance may be attached to these few sentences. The question of Investitures, and the dependence or independence of the Church of Ravenna from that of Rome are both concerned here. Of course the champions of the Papal prerogative do not admit that the passage has any authority.

Shortly before the death of John, his biographers place that marvellous event which gave him his name of 'the Angel-Seer,' and which is an early instance of those legends of the Holy Grail with which English readers have been rendered familiar through Tennyson's 'Sir Galahad.'

'When the aforesaid Joannes was singing a solemn mass in the Basilica of St. Agatha, and had accomplished all things according to the rite of the holy Pontiffs, after the reading of the Gospel, after the protestation (?),​* the catechumens who were privileged to see him saw marvellous things. For when the saint was beginning to say the canonical words of prayer and to make the sign of the Cross over the Sacrifice, suddenly an angel from heaven came and stood on the other side of the altar in sight of the Pontiff. And when after finishing the consecration he had received the body of the Lord, the assisting deacon who wished to fulfil his ministry could not see the chalice which he had to hand to him. Suddenly he was moved aside by the angel who offered the holy chalice to the Pontiff in his place. Then all the priests and people began to shake and tremble, beholding the holy chalice, self-moved, inclined to the Pontiff's mouth and again lifted into the air and laid upon the holy altar. A strange thrill passed through the waiting multitude. Some said "The deacon is unworthy," but others affirmed "Not so, but it is a heavenly visitation." And so long did the angel stand by the holy man until all the solemnities of the mass were ended.

'After a short time, having blessed all his sons the citizens of Ravenna, with joyful countenance as one bidden to a feast, John ended his days on the fifth of June. He was buried in the Basilica of St. Agatha, behind the altar in the place where he saw the angel standing, and we see daily his portrait over  p909 the sedilia, from which it appears that he was a man of slender form, with hair mostly black, but a few white locks interspersed. But his holiness was greater than his years, for the Lord of Heaven looks not so much at men's ages as at their hearts.

'And now, my brethren, through the favour of God I have fulfilled my promise as far as I was able, and written the life of Joannes Angeloptes. But thy deeds, oh Petrus Chrysologus, who is sufficient to declare? Though my voice were made of adamant and came forth from brazen lungs, and though I had a hundred verses in my Ligarii (?),​** even so I could not narrate all thy actions.'

19. St. Peter Chrysologus 'was beautiful of aspect, delightful in form. Before him was no Pontiff like him in wisdom, neither did any such arise after him.'

Undoubtedly Chrysologus was one of the great ecclesiastical figures of the fifth century, a man not unworthy to stand by the side of Chrysostom of Constantinople and Leo of Rome. As far as his date can be ascertained, he seems to have come into the See about 439, and to have died some time before 458. He was a native of Imola, and was, according to the legend recorded by Agnellus, a humble deacon ministering in the cathedral church of that city, when Pope Sixtus III (432‑441), obeying an intimation which he had received in a vision from St. Peter and St. Apollinaris, presented him to the clergy of Ravenna, and insisted upon their receiving him as their Bishop instead of the candidate of their chair. But this legend has about it many marks of a late origin, and has probably at the best only a small nucleus of truth.

Of the actual episcopate of Chrysologus there is not much that need here be recorded. He is said to have taken part, by correspondence, in the Council of Chalcedon (451), and to have addressed a severe letter to the heretic Eutyches. 'After a space of 30 years a claim is barred by mere human laws; why then dost thou after about 500 (?) years presume thus to address thy railing accusations against Christ? But thou oughtest to humble thyself before the holy Roman Pontiff, and diligently to keep his precepts, and think of him as if he were St. Peter the Apostle still present in the flesh, holding the primacy of the Roman See.'

The internal evidence is quite sufficient to show that no such  p910 letter was ever addressed by Ravenna to Chalcedon. One letter however on the subject of the Eutychian heresy, and some homilies, are still extant, which by the consent of scholars appear to be admitted as his genuine compositions. His true memorial however is the lovely chapel of San Pier Crisologo, or Arcivescovado, to which reference is made in the text.

When it was made known to him by a divine intimation that death was approaching, he left the archiepiscopal splendours of Ravenna and repaired to his own ancestral lands. There, in the Basilica and by the altar of Cassian, once schoolmaster, then martyr, and now patron-saint of Imola, he stood and uttered a long and beautiful prayer to God and address to his people. After which, 'turning to the altar of St. Cassian, he said, "I pray thee, blessed Cassian, intercede for me. I was as it were a home-born servant in thy house, when Cornelius nourished me up in the bosom of thy Church. Returning to thee once more I now give up my body to thee and my soul to Almighty God." With these and other words, hurled forth as from the mouth of a conqueror, while all around were weeping, he gave up his spirit on the third of December. And the grave-diggers laid his sacred body in the spot which he himself pointed out behind the episcopal seat in that Church, and there it remains unto this day.'

Chrysologus was succeeded by

20. St. Neon, and he by

21. St. Exuperantius,

both of whom Agnellus has placed before Joannes Angeloptes but who evidently must be transferred to this place. Little is known of either, except that a letter was addressed to Neon by Pope Leo the Great in the year 458. Apparently the two saints together fill up the interval from about 455 to 477.

To the modern traveller Neon's chief claim for remembrance consists in his decoration of the Baptistery, that little octagonal building which, like so many of its kind in North Italy, stands a little apart from the Duomo (Ecclesia Ursiana) to which it belongs. A large cistern — evidently used for the full immersion of the neophyte — stands in the centre of the building. On the dome above, the vivid mosaics depict the baptism of Jesus by John. Jordan, in aspect like a classical river‑god, contemplates the great event, while all around the lower part of the dome  p911 stand the stately figures of the Apostles. Some hexameters, still inscribed on the walls in the time of Agnellus, attributed 'the glory of this renovation to the magnanimous Neon, chief of the priests, who, with beautifying reverence, ordered all things anew.'

22. St. John II ruled the See from 477 to 494. Here at last we get two certain dates from the inscription on his tomb, and the recovery of this name and these dates enables us to correct an omission of Agnellus and to understand the cause of the wild errors which he has committed in his chronology. For it is now clear that in his life of John the Angel-seer he has run two bishops into one, and has calmly blended transactions reaching over a period of some sixty or seventy years, the death of Honorius, the invasion of Attila, the war between Odovacar and Theodoric, in his life of a bishop who according to his own account ruled his See for 16 years, 10 months, and 18 days.​8

It was this John II who negotiated the peace, the short-lived peace between Odovacar and Theodoric which terminated the long siege of Ravenna (493).9

23. St. Peter II (or III), 494‑520 (?). By a similar confusion Agnellus has omitted to mention this prelate, and has attributed one of his buildings to St. Peter Chrysologus. That this Peter was the successor of John II is made almost certain by the fact that his name occurs on the roll of the bishops who attended the synods in Rome between 501 and 504, called in connection with the schism between Symmachus and Laurentius. We hear of Peter also in 519, as failing to control the excesses of the anti-Jewish rabble at Ravenna.​10 We may therefore at least say, that he was bishop for the first two decades of the sixth century.

24. St. Aurelian, who occupied the See for little more than a year, is the Bishop whose biography, with its quaint confession of the biographer's ignorance of his subject, has been already quoted.​11 It is interesting to note that a fragment of his will still exists, written on papyrus. We learn from it that the will  p912 was (as we should say) 'proved' before the magistrates of Ravenna, on the 3rd June, 521.12

25. St. Ecclesius (circa 521‑532) 'a holy vessel, of moderate stature. He had a head covered with bushy hair, and shaggy eyebrows; he was moderately white-haired and beautiful to look upon. In his time, the temple of the blessed martyr Vitalis was dedicated by Julianus the Treasurer along with the bishop himself.' A dispute arose between this Bishop and some of his clergy who had begun to attend the sports of the amphitheatre, and in other ways had broken the bonds of ecclesiastical discipline. The dispute was referred to Pope Felix III, whose judgment signed by Ecclesius and the clergy of both the opposing parties, still exists, an interesting and valuable document.

The portrait of Ecclesius in mosaic, corresponding pretty accurately to the above description, is introduced in the apse of the church of St. Vitale.

Together with Pope John, and several other prelates and officials of high rank, Ecclesius was sent by Theodoric on a strange and ill‑judged embassy to the Emperor Justin I, to obtain a mitigation of the persecution of the Arians. Whether he shared the imprisonment which was the punishment inflicted on the Pope on his return from his unsuccessful mission we are not informed.13

26. St. Ursicinus (circa 532‑536), 'a lowly man, having a ruddy face and large eyes, tall in stature, slender in figure, holy and a worker of holiness. This holy man ordered that the church of St. Apollinaris [in Classe] should be founded and completed by Julian the Treasurer. In all the regions of Italy there is no church like to this, with precious stones which glow by night as well as by day.'

27. St. Victor (circa 537‑544), 'a man of beautiful face and brisk countenance. He made a ciborium of silver over the altar in the church of St. Ursus [the cathedral], a marvellous work. Some say that he did this jointly with the common people, and others that in the time of Justinian I, the orthodox Emperor suggested that he should undertake this work, and he in turn asked the Emperor for help, whereupon Justinian, moved by compassion, granted the whole revenue of Italy in that year to  p913 the blessed Victor [for the purpose of the ciborium]. And having received it Victor constructed the work which ye now see, and which when the ancient work is removed is of the full weight of 120 pounds of silver.'

There are signs of a vacancy of the See (well accounted for by the troubles of the period) between the death of St. Victor and the election of

28. St. Maximian (546‑556, or 557). 'He was tall in stature,' says Agnellus, 'of slender body, thin in the face, with bald head, with blue-grey eyes, and adorned with all grace.'

After the lapse of thirteen centuries we can still look upon the face of this noteworthy prelate, theologian, architect and historian, even as it was represented to the men of his own generation, on the walls of the church of St. Vitale. There is seen the broad, sleek face of Justinian, who by an artistic fiction is represented as assisting at the consecration of the church. The diadem, the purple robe, the jewelled sandals, all the glory of an Emperor of Rome in the sixth century are represented in the freshly-glowing mosaic. Three great officers of state stand close beside him: his body-guard with spear and shield stand ready for his defence. On the left of the Emperor are three ecclesiastics; at their head Bishop Maximian wearing his pallium and holding a jewelled cross in his right hand. His great, dome-like forehead is bald, but the few hairs still left on either side of it have not lost their blackness. The face is distinguished from those of the commonplace courtiers and churchmen who surround him, by something of the dignity of study and of thought. It is eminently fitting that this bishop should be represented standing side by side with the Emperor of the East in the Church at Ravenna, for it was to Imperial favour that he owed his great place in the city by the Ronco. He was a mere deacon in the church of Pola, the Istrian city, but when after the death of Victor, a deputation of priests from Ravenna arrived in Constantinople urging their various claims and pressing Justinian to bestow the coveted Pallium on one or other of them, the Emperor waved them all aside and ordered Vigilius the Roman Pontiff, who was at that time a refugee in his dominions, to consecrate the deacon Maximian, a man in the 49th year of his age, at Patras in Achaia, and sent him with the episcopal Pallium to Ravenna.

 p914  The pride of the men of Ravenna was wounded by this intrusion of an Istrian stranger into their See. Among other ill‑natured stories which were circulated to account for the extraordinary favour shown him by Justinian, it was said that when digging in a field near Pola, he had discovered a great vessel filled with gold and precious ornaments. At once he ordered an ox to be slain and filled its belly with some of the treasure. Then he ordered his shoemaker to make a pair of stout jack-boots and these too he filled with golden pieces. The balance that was left over after these appropriations he took with him to Constantinople and handed it over to the Emperor.​14 Great was Justinian's need of money at this time for his costly wars, and even while thanking the generous finder he could not refrain from asking if there were any more treasure behind. 'I swear to thee, oh Emperor,' said the deacon, 'by the salvation of thy soul that there was nothing more in the vessel except what I have spent on the belly and on shoe-leather.' Justinian, thinking that he had all the treasure except what had been expended on absolute necessaries for the journey, considered within himself what reward he could give for such generous loyalty; and in this way (said popular rumour) Maximian obtained the bishopric of Ravenna.

If he had indeed by devious ways climbed up to that high dignity, when he had obtained it he did not bear himself therein unworthily. The citizens at first closed their gates against him, and he remained for some time in a palace outside the walls which had been built by an Arian bishop in the time of Theodoric. The chief men of his party chafed over the delay and were for sending to Constantinople to invoke the intervention of the Emperor. But Maximian steadfastly refused to appeal to the secular arm. 'He was a shepherd,' he said, 'and he would not slaughter his flock.' He invited first one and then another of the hostile party to dine with him, and after eating and drinking he gave them some of the treasures which, according to the story, had once been hidden in the boots or in the ox's belly. They all went back charmed with their entertainer,  p915 praised his wisdom and prudence, and lamented the sad estate of the Church of Ravenna which was going limping on her way without a bishop. Before long the gates were opened: and the citizens went forth with crosses and banners to welcome their pastor. They kissed his feet, and they led him with acclamation through the flower-crowned streets to the Basilica of Ursus and the bishop's-house​15 of the sainted Chrysologus.

In the ten years of Maximian's episcopate he was a great builder of churches. He built the beautiful church of St. Mary, in his native city of Pola, and in Ravenna the church of Saint Andrew which he intended to enrich with the body of the Apostle: but as Justinian — so says the legend — insisted on detaining the precious relic at Constantinople in order that the sister-cities of Old and New Rome might each possess the body of one of the brethren, Simon and Andrew, Maximian had to content himself with the hair of the Apostle's beard, which he carried to Ravenna and placed under the high altar of his new church. To Maximian also, as we have seen, fell the honour of completing and dedicating in 547 the church of St. Vitale, and in 549 that of St. Apollinaris in Classe. He contributed many precious vessels to the sacristy of the cathedral, and caused the seventy‑two books which were used in the service of the church to be beautifully copied, himself diligently collating copy and original to guard against error.

But what especially interests us in this prelate and justifies us in lingering somewhat over his name is that he was evidently one of the chief historians, we might perhaps say the only Italian historian of the sixth century. 'After the blessed Jerome and Orosius and other historiographers, he laboured at chronicles, and following in their steps, in divers books traced out his own chronicle of the nobler kind of princes, not only emperors but also kings and prefects.'​16 We have apparently only one short quotation taken expressly from the 'Chronica' of Maximian, but finding as we do a peculiar fullness and richness of detail in some of our authorities whenever they touch on affairs specially interesting to a citizen of Ravenna, we have a right to conjecture that some of them at any rate had this chronicle of Maximian before them when they were writing.  p916 The precise relation to Maximian of 'Anonymus Cuspiniani,' 'Anonymus Valesii,' and the continuer of Prosper (Codex Havniensis) has been much discussed and is perhaps not yet entirely settled; but that some relation existed between them is placed almost beyond a doubt.

29. St. Agnellus (circa 556‑570) is the last bishop whom I propose to mention here, as the ecclesiastical history of his successors connects itself intimately with the civil history of the Exarchs of Ravenna. This bishop, according to the description of his much later namesake, 'had a ruddy face, a full figure, thin eyebrows, pink scalp, piercing eyes and a double chin under his beard. He was of middle height, comely in person, perfect in work, but after the loss of his wife, laying aside the belt of military service he gave himself up entirely to God. He was of noble descent, rich in possessions, abounding in flocks and herds and all kinds of wealth. Among the rest of his property he left five silver vessels, ornaments for the table, to his grand-daughter, his daughter's daughter.'​17

Justinian is said to have handed over to Agnellus and the Church of Ravenna all the possessions of the Goths in the city and suburbs, but probably by this we are to understand only the ecclesiastical possessions of the Arian Gothic community. The episcopate of Agnellus was made chiefly memorable by his 'reconciliation,' that is reconsecration for Catholic worship, of six great Arian churches which had been built in Ravenna and its neighbourhood under the princes of the house of Theodoric. Among these were the Church of St. Maria in Cosmedin, otherwise called the Arian Baptistery, the Church of St. Theodore, and the Church of St. Martin 'in Coelo Aureo,' afterwards known as 'S. Apollinare Dentro.' It was Agnellus who gave to the last named church those two superb mosaics representing the procession of the Martyrs and the Virgins which are now the crowning glory of marvellous Ravenna.

For the convenience of actual visitors to Ravenna (for whose sake chiefly this note is written) I append a tabular statement of the chief ecclesiastical buildings still visible there, with the names of their founders and the approximate dates of their erection.

Church Date Founder
Ecclesia Ursiana (Cathedral)
and Baptistery
385 St. Ursus
St. John the Evangelist 425 Galla Placidia
St. Agatha Early part of 5th century Unknown
Chapel of St. Peter Chrysologus
(at the Arcivescovado)
439‑458 St. Peter Chrysologus
St. Peter the Greater
(now S. Francesco)
Circa 450‑460 St. Peter Chrysologus and Neon
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
(SS. Nazario e Celso)
Circa 450 Galla Placidia
St. Theodore
(now Spirito Santo)
Early part of 6th century Theodoric
Arian Baptistery
(now S. Maria in Cosmedin)
" "
St. Martin 'in Coelo Aureo'
(now S. Apollinare Dentro)
" "
St. Vitalis Circa 530‑547 St. Ecclesius, Julian the Treasurer,
and St. Maximian
St. Apollinaris 'in Classe' Circa 535‑549 St. Ursicinus, Julian the Treasurer,
and St. Maximian.

The Author's Notes:

1 This threat was not fulfilled. His second book is equal in length to the first, which he is here completing.

2 See p861.

3 No remains apparently of this church.

4 Alluding possibly to seats for the congregation.

5 An incidental proof how little as yet the ecclesiastical Basilica had deviated in external appearance from its imperial pattern.

6 This must be a mistake. The inscription on his tomb, quoted by Agnellus, shows that Lauricius outlived Honorius by at least fifteen years.

7 As the passage is important, I will transcribe the original: —

'Non post multos dies idem Augustus sub consecratione B. Johannis Antistitis xiv Civitates cum suis Ecclesiis largitus est Archieraticâ potestate, et usque in praesentem diem xiv Civitates cum Episcopis sub Ravennae Ecclesiâ reductae sunt. . . . Iste primus ab Augusto pallium ex candidâ lanâ accepit, ut mos est Romanorum Pontifici super duplo idem induere, quo usus est ipse et successores sui usque in praesentem diem.'

Agnelli, Lib. Pontif. apud Muratori, II.67.

* From the Corrigenda, p. xxvii: i.e. the Creed.

** From the Corrigenda, p. xxvii: Or ligaria. Apparently the word is only found here, and seems to mean 'papers bound together,' 'a note-book,' from 'ligare' to bind.

Thayer's Note: Cf. Spanish legajo, familiar to all who refer to Spanish colonial archives (the Archivo General de Indias, etc.).

8 This computation, taken from the epitaph above mentioned, evidently belongs to the second John, not the first.

9 See vol. III p234.

10 Anon. Valesii, 82, 83. See vol. III.268, 269.º

11 See p900.

12 Marini Pap. dipl. 112 (quoted by Holder-Egger).

13 Anon. Valesii, § 90. Compare vol. III p512, &c.

14 Had the treasure been found 'in Caesaris loco,' in some place belonging to the Emperor? In that case the Emperor was entitled as of right to one half of the find (Inst. II.1.39). Or are we to consider it as a free-will offering on the part of Maximian?

15 Episcopium.

16 Agnellus 78.

17 Probably the reason why these are specially mentioned is because the Church had hoped to become the owner of them.

Thayer's Note:

a Holder-Egger's text of the Liber Pontificalis Ecclesiae Ravennatis is onsite.

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