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The Good Shepherd, mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, 1st half of the 5th century

In the early summer of 2018, my husband, my kids, and me had the good fortune to be able to visit Italy for the first time in our lives. When I was growing up, we usually went to France in the summer vacation, as was normal for families from the Netherlands. I did have Latin in high school, but our class was very small, and trips to Rome where not the norm at that school. In college, I had somehow missed the choir tour to Italy, and had “only” gone on the ones to Spain (three times) and Portugal. So it was a very special treat to me to finally be able to go to Italy, and see several of the art works in real life.

After three relaxing days in the mountains and three wonderful days in Venice, we traveled on to Ravenna. I had gone back and forth about including Ravenna in the itinerary. Would we want yet another stop? Was it worth it to have less time in Umbria as a result of the extra night in Ravenna?

In Venice, we had learned that visiting tourist attractions at 5 pm or later was the best way to avoid the busloads of tourists. So on the morning we left Venice, I emailed the guide in Ravenna I had been corresponding with in the weeks before that we might still want to visit the mosaics with her between 5 and 7 pm, if she was still free. If I could confirm after lunch time? She was fine with that. (Later we learned that the busiest time for the tour guides in Ravenna is the school year, when all the Italian kids come to learn about this important time and place in Italian (art) history, and that most of them are more flexible in the summer).

At 10:30 am, we did a reverse commute on the ferry from the Zattere in Venice’s Dorsoduro neighborhood to Fusina on the mainland, where our rental car had been parked for three nights. We drove to Chioggia and ate a delightful seafood lunch at a no-frills restaurant at the harbor there. Then we confirmed our time with the guide and drove the extremely boring road to Ravenna, still wondering if all this was worth it.

But our visit to the mosaics with the guide was one of the best and most peaceful experiences we had that entire vacation. There was no line at the ticket office, the mosaics were stunningly beautiful, the buildings practically empty that time of day, and our guide was extremely knowledgable and fun to be with (it was hard saying good-bye to her after the two hours). All four of us cherish our memories of that visit.

The most impressive monument to all of us was the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, because of how well preserved and vibrant the mosaics in that monument are. I had been using the mosaic of Jesus as “The Good Shepherd” already twice on this blog, and it was deeply moving to me to see it there in real life. So I’m featuring it again today.

Jesus as the Good Shepherd is the theme for this Second Sunday after Easter, and it appears in all three cantatas Bach wrote for this Sunday: BWV 104 from 1724, BWV 85 from 1725, and BWV 112 from 1731. I have yet to write about Cantata 112, but have written about Cantata 104 here in 2017, and about Cantata 85 here in 2016.

Wieneke Gorter, April 17, 2021.