The history of Ravenna, her importance in the history of Europe and Italy, thus comes to an end with the appearance of Charlemagne and the resurrection of the West. The ancient and beautiful city which had played so great a part in the fortunes of the empire, which had, as it were, twice been its birthplace and twice its tomb, herself passes into oblivion when that empire, Holy now and Roman still, rises again and in the West with the crowning of Charlemagne in S. Peter’s Church upon Christmas Day in the year of Our Lord 800. With her subsequent story, interesting to us mainly in two of its episodes—the apparition of Dante and the incident of 1512—I shall deal when I come to consider the Mediaeval and Renaissance city.
But in fact we always think of Ravenna as a city of the Dark Age, and in that we are right. She is a tomb, the tomb of the old empire, and like the sepulchre outside the gates of Jerusalem, that was Arimathean Joseph’s, she held during an appalling interval of terror and doubt the most precious thing in the world, to be herself utterly forgotten in the morning of the resurrection. And surely to one who had approached her in the dawn, while it was yet dark, of the ninth century, of mediaeval Europe that is, her words would have been those of the angels so long ago: Non est hic; sed surrexit. While to us to-day she would say: Venite et videte locum ubi positus erat Dominus.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCHES OF THE FIFTH CENTURY
THE CATHEDRAL, BAPTISTERY, ARCIVESCOVADO, S. AGATA, S. PIETRO MAGGIORE, S. GIOVANNI EVANGELISTA, S. GIOVANNI BATTISTA, AND THE MAUSOLEUM OF GALLA PLACIDIA
Ravenna, as we see her to-day, is like no other city in Italy. As in her geography and in her history, so in her aspect, she is a place apart, a place very distinctive and special, and with a physiognomy and appearance all her own. What we see in her is still really the city of Honorius, of Galla Placidia, of Theodoric, of Belisarius and Narses, of the exarchate, in a word, of the mighty revolution in which Europe, all we mean by Europe, so nearly foundered, and which here alone is still splendidly visible to us in the great Roman and Byzantine works of that time.
For the age, the Dark Age, of her glory is illumined by no other city in Italy or indeed in the world. She was the splendour of that age, a lonely splendour. And because, when that age came to an end, she was practically abandoned—abandoned, that is, by the great world—just as about the same time she was abandoned by the sea, much of her ancient beauty has remained to her through all the centuries since, even down to our own day, when, lovelier than ever in her lonely marsh, she is a place so lugubrious, so infinitely still and sad, full of the autumn wind and the rumours of silence of the tomb, of the most reverent of all tombs—the tomb of the empire.