Arian Baptistery, Ravenna

The Arian Baptistery (Battistero degli Ariani) stands in a small square next to the old Arian cathedral of Santo Spirito in Ravenna, Italy. It was built by the Ostrogothic ruler Theodoric at the end of the 5th century.


History of Arian Baptistery

In the 5th century, Ravenna was ruled by Theodoric, a Goth who ascribed to the Arian form of Christianity.

Declared a heresy at the Council of Nicea in 325, Arianism is the view that Christ, while divine, was created by the Father and is therefore inferior to him. The orthodox view holds that Christ is equally divine ("of the same substance") as God the Father.

Theodoric built a new Arian cathedral (the Basilica Spirito Santo) with its own baptistery towards the end of the 5th century, not long after Ravenna's Orthodox Baptistery was built. It is quite similar to its orthodox predecessor, including the mosaic in the dome.

The Byzantines took Ravenna in 540, bringing Arian and barbarian rule in Italy to an end. About 10 years later, Emperor Justinian gave the Arian Baptistery to the orthodox (Catholic) community of the city, who turned it into a church called Santa Maria in Cosmedin.

What to See at Arian Baptistery

The Arian Baptistery has an octagonal plan, with four small apses on opposing sides. Originally there was an ambulatory around seven of the eight sides. The baptistery now stands about 2.25 meters below modern ground level.

Nothing remains of the decorations that once covered the walls, but the dome still contains a beautifully restored mosaic depicting the baptism of Christ and the Twelve Apostles. The Arian version of the mosaic is simpler, with only one concentric circle instead of two and slightly more primitive-looking figures.

The central scene is quite similar to the subject and layout in the Orthodox Baptistery, with the most notable difference being the depiction of Christ: here he is shown youthful and beardless. Was this a matter of artistic taste, or was it an expression of the Arian belief in the Son's inferiority to the Father?

The boyish Christ is flanked by two bearded figures: John the Baptist on the right and a personification of the River Jordan on the left. In the tradition of Roman depictions of river gods, he is shown as a bearded old man holding a rush (a hardy river plant), with horns made of lobster claws. He sits next to a vase, the symbolic source of the river.

Around this central circle is a procession of the Twelve Apostles, led by St. Peter and Paul, towards an enthroned cross at the top. The apostles carry jeweled crowns in their veiled hands, except for Peter who carries his keys and Paul who holds a scroll.

The old Arian cathedral, the Basilica of Santo Spirito, was extensively rebuilt after WWII but preserves its original layout.

Quick Facts on Arian Baptistery

Site Information
Names:Arian Baptistery · Battistero degli Ariani
Categories:baptisteries; octagonal buildings; World Heritage Sites
Dates:c. 490
Status: museum
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:44.418716° N, 12.202393° E
Address:Via degli Ariani
Ravenna, Italy
Phone:0544 35404
Hours:Daily 8:30am-7:30pm
Lodging:View hotels near Arian Baptistery
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.


  1. Personal visit (May 10, 2008).
  2. Guiseppe Bovini, Ravenna: Art and History (Ravenna: Longo), 52.
  3. Ravenna Tourist Office (2006).
  4. PlanetWare (2006).
  5. Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna - UNESCO World Heritage List

More Information

Exterior view from the north. The baptistery is over 2 meters below modern ground level. © Holly Hayes
Ceiling mosaic of the Baptism of Christ surrounded by apostles. © Holly Hayes
Detail of ceiling mosaic, depicting the Baptism of Christ surrounded by apostles. © Holly Hayes
Detail of a youthful-looking Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist. © Holly Hayes
Detail of John the Baptist baptizing Christ in the Jordan River, with the Holy Spirit descending in the form... © Holly Hayes
Personification of the River Jordan as a bare-chested, grey-bearded man with lobster claws for horns. He holds... © Holly Hayes
Interior of the small baptistery, looking southwest. © Holly Hayes

Map of Arian Baptistery, Ravenna

Below is a location map and aerial view of Arian Baptistery. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.