There is much else of interest in the church: the beautiful crypt with its ancient sarcophagus of S. Apollinare and its columns; the ten great sarcophagi which stand about the church, three of which contain the relics of archbishops of Ravenna; the curious tabernacle at the end of the north aisle. But a whole morning, or for that matter a whole day, is not too much to spend in this beautiful and deserted sanctuary which bridges for us so many centuries and in which we are made one with those who helped to establish the foundations of Europe.
RAVENNA IN THE MIDDLE AGE
The last great original work to be undertaken in Ravenna as the capital of the empire in the West was the building and decoration of the churches of S. Vitale and S. Apollinare in Classe. All the Byzantine work that was done later in Ravenna is merely imitative, an expression of failing power under the crushing disaster of the Lombard invasion. When at last Aistulf in 751 made himself master of the impregnable city, it ceased, and suddenly, to be a capital, and though in 754 Pepin “restored” it to the papacy and established the pope throughout the Exarchate and the Pentapolis, he by that act founded the Papal States, whose capital of necessity was Rome. Thus Ravenna found herself when Charlemagne had been crowned emperor in 800 little more than a decaying provincial city, without authority or hope of resurrection, and it is as a city of the provinces full only of gigantic memories that she appears in the Middle Age and the Renaissance and remains to our own day.
The appearance of Charlemagne, the resurrection of the empire in the West, confirm and consolidate the misfortune of 751 in which indeed she lost everything. But when we see the great Frank strip the imperial palace of its marbles and mosaics it is as though the fate of Ravenna had been expressed in some great ceremony and not by unworthy hands. An emperor had set her up so high, an emperor had kept her there so long; it was an emperor who, as in a last great rite, stript her of her apparel and left her naked with her memories.
[Illustration: The Campanile of S. Apollinare]
Those memories, not only splendid and glorious, but gaunt and terrible too, smoulder in her ruined heart as the fire may do in the ashes when all that was living and glorious has been consumed. Almost nothing as she became when Charlemagne left her, a mere body still wrapt in gorgeous raiment stiff with gold, but without a soul, she still dreamt of dominion, of empire, and of power. Governed by her archbishops, she rebelled against Rome, struggled for a secular and sometimes a religious autonomy, and came at last, as surely might have been prophesied, to consider herself as a feudatory of the Empire, not of the Church.