preserved rural baptistery is the sixth-century one in Riva S. Vitale in Ticino. The nearest cathedral city was 15 km away in Como, but the Riva S. Vitale congregation had its own baptistery thanks either to its own industriousness or an affluent local patron. The minuscule Negev settlement of Shivta (390 x 290 m) is unlikely to have had its own bishop, although the community was serviced by a chorepiscopos who made the rounds of the various settlements in the region. But the settlement did claim three churches and two baptisteries as its own. One baptistery was added to the narthex of the southern church, which had been built on the site of a domus, and in 607 another baptistery was added to the northern church, and community luminaries were interred there. It is at any rate clear that the house ofworship in northern Shivta became more prestigious than the former mother church in the southern part of the settlement. Competition and the desire to gain the upper hand often provided the impetus for baptistery construction.

Two baptisteries could also represent two different Christian 'denominations', as for example in Ravenna,38 where in the sixth century the Arian (Homoian) baptistery became the second baptismal space in the town, the first being the venerable Orthodox baptistery. Competition came into play here as well, since the Arians (Homoians) repeated the decoration programme of the cathedral baptistery for the cupola of their structure, albeit with some significant modifications. If the Arians (Homoians) had wished to distinguish themselves from an artistic standpoint, they could have devised their own iconographical programme. If the depictions of the baptism of Christ and the apostles presenting the laurel wreath (the aurum coronarium) to Jesus were good enough for the Orthodox, then they were good enough for the Arians (Homoians) too. However, the Arians (Homoians) did bow to contemporary fashion in depicting the sacred Jordan river not as a half-figure, as in the Orthodox version, but as a full figure that is conspicuously large on purely pictorial, narrative and compositional grounds.

The Orthodox baptistery in Ravenna, in which the mosaics were executed from 430 to 450, is by far the most opulently decorated early Christian baptistery. A marble wall covering up to eye level, a veritable carpet of mosaics ascending majestically to the zenith ofthe cupola, and stucco statues at window height - all combine to form one of the most figuratively complex decorative programmes in early Christendom. Here the neophyte's religious ardour was

38 F. W Deichmann, Ravenna. Geschichte und Monumente and Ravenna. Hauptstadt des spatantiken Abendlandes.

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