July 20: St. Apollinaris

(Died 79 A. D.)
The importance of St. Apollinaris in the early church can be substantiated by two magnificent basilicas in the city of Ravenna, Italy and another in Rome.
Who was this man?
Tradition says that when St. Peter left Antioch to bring the message of Jesus to Rome, he was accompanied by some of his followers. Among these was Apollinaris, a Syrian. As the mission spread, Peter made Apollinaris a bishop and sent him to the city of Ravenna, on the northeastern coast of the Italian peninsula.
Other versions, based on historical evidence, place him in Ravenna in the second century. In every version of his story, however, Apollinaris met with opposition and torture.
Apollinaris was credited for affecting miraculous cures when he arrived in Ravenna. A successful attention-getting device, it earned him a faithful following and the attention of detractors. He was beaten by irate pagans and left half dead on the beach near Ravenna but recovered thanks to the care of the faithful. He was later arrested, interrogated, flogged, stretched on the rack and placed in boiling oil and yet survived.
As they could not kill him, the authorities banished him across the Adriatic sea to Illyria (present day Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro). He stayed there and evangelized for three years until pagans accused him of muting a sacred idol. Once again, he was beaten and sent back to Italy where he was apprehended and flogged.
He died in the year 79 A.D. and was buried four miles outside of Ravenna in an area known as Classis (“Classe” in Italian). A great basilica was built on the spot to host his relics. Later another basilica was built in the city and the relics were moved there.
In the first church there is a beautiful mosaic depicting the saint on the apse (that curved, half-dome area behind the altar). Apollinaris is placed dead center with his arms extended in prayer. Six lambs stretch to his left and six lambs stretch to his right, representing him as the shepherd leading his faithful flock to salvation. He is dressed in the clerical robes of a bishop, resplendent in the Byzantine style, thus making him an equal to any earthly prince.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini