Postcard from Ravenna, Italy: ‘We three kings of Orient are?’

Detailed wish lists for newborns are commonplace online, but aromatic resins must have fallen out of popularity. Maybe because frankincense and myrrh are not stocked by retailers such as Babies ‘R’ Us. Most parents of today would welcome gold though.

These are the gifts presented in the manger by the three kings from the east who followed the star. The Mister’s mother, Virginia Hornor Spencer (1924-2000), would unroll handsome gold banners featuring the kings each year for the holidays, launching the annual trivia quiz to recall the names of the wise men.

The photo above eliminates the challenge by labeling them: Balthazar, Melchior and Gaspar. In this mosaic in Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, the kings are followed by a parade of 22 virgins.

This church was constructed for Theodoric the Great (493-526), who, in addition to his own baptistery, wanted a private Arian chapel near his palace. He is credited with commissioning the top row of prophets lining the walls. Some of his Arian Christian mosaics were altered after the Byzantine branch of the Catholic Church recaptured Ravenna from what they considered barbaric heretics. The parades of the virgins and martyrs were added by the more mainstream Catholics.

Saint Apollinaris was an early bishop of Ravenna who supposedly suffered through a torture and release program practiced by Roman emperors against the early Christians. He endured beatings, hackings by knives, forced walks over hot coals, time in the dungeon and numerous expulsions from Ravenna before his final capture resulted in wounds from which he did not recover.

Around the year 900, the martyr’s relics were moved to this church, which was renamed in his honor with the “Nuovo” tag to distinguish it from the first church to house his remains as it was near the sea and prone to raids by pirates. Most of Saint Apollinaris’ parts are divided between the two Apollinare churches of Ravenna.

The cylindrical bell tower was added in the 9th or 10th century, and the marble porch was tacked onto the basilica in the 16th century. The altar and its dome were altered much later.

2 thoughts on “Postcard from Ravenna, Italy: ‘We three kings of Orient are?’

  1. spixl says:

    Did the 22 virgins carry canastas on their heads? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Instead of the flower-filled baskets borne by the women of Teotitlan del Valle, the virgins’ heads were crowned with golden halos.

    Like

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