The Patriarchal Basilica Tur Virtual

The architectural development of the Basilica of Aquileia, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the saints Hermagora and Fortunatus, started in the years immediately after 313 AD. In that period the Edict of Milan put an end to religious persecution and the Christian community was legally able to build its first place of public worship. In the following centuries, after the destruction of this first church, seat of a bishopric, the inhabitants of Aquileia built it up again other four times, using each time the structures of the previous buildings: Theodorian Hall, first half of the 4th century; Post-Theodorian North, middle of the 4th century; Post-Theodorian South, end of the 4th century or after the middle of the 5th century; hall of Maxentius, 9th century; Poppo's church, first half of the 11th century; rebuilding of the upper part of the church by Markward von Randeck, from the pointed arches to the roof, 14th-15th century.

The Basilica, as it is today, is in Romanesque-Gothic style. The inside is majestic and solemn and pervades us with a deep spirituality, which has grown along with the centuries. The entire floor is a wonderful coloured mosaic of the 4th century, brought to light in the years 1909-1912. The elegant hull-shaped timber roof dates back to the 15th century. This means that between floor and ceiling there are more than one thousand years of historical and artistic development. With its 760 square metres the floor is the largest Paleo-Christian mosaic of the western world. It alone could be enough to satisfy the traveller coming here to visit the Ecclesia Mater, which has become part of the world heritage. The mosaic was partly damaged due to the construction of the columns flanking the right side at the end of the 4th century according to some scholars and after the middle of the 5th century according to others. It is also possible to see the foundations of the columns because at the beginning of the 20th century the medieval white and red tiled floor made under Patriarch Poppo (1031) was removed in order to uncover the precious Paleo-Christian mosaic. The glass platforms are situated at the level of the medieval floor.

Entering the Basilica we can see the mosaic floor belonging to the Theodorian South Hall, one of the three main rooms constituting the bishop's seat during the empire of Constantine. Theodore, whom the inscription on the floor in the Fishing Scene refers to, had built a complex of worship perfectly corresponding to the liturgical needs of that time. He bought an urban area, demolished the warehouses situated in it and built a complex with the shape of a horseshoe. Two rectangular parallel halls (South and North Hall), connected by a rectangular transversal hall. Between the two parallel halls to the east of the transversal hall there were the baptistery, some ancillary rooms and the entrance to the whole complex. Of this first complex are visible today: in the Basilica. the mosaic of the South Hall, part of the cocciopesto floor of the transversal hall, part of the mosaic floor of the entry; in the Crypt of Excavations, remains of the mosaics of the North Hall, remains of the cocciopesto of the transversal room and the floors of the ancillary rooms; the remains of the old baptistery with circular baptismal font are not visible instead. According to some scholars the South Hall was used by catechumens preparing for baptism, while the North Hall was used for the Holy Mass. Other scholars instead are convinced of the contrary. The connecting room was used both as a dressing room before the baptism following the rite of immersion and for the celebration of the Confirmation. The mosaic floor is divided into panels bordered by vegetal motives (acanthus shoots). There are ten "carpets", each representing different highly symbolical scenes, some of which are considered particularly important.
The mosaics
Walking along the platform we can admire the first scene: the Battle between Cock and Tortoise. The cock is the symbol of the light of a new day, thus representing Christ, the "light of the world". The tortoise, whose Greek name means "dweller of the darkness", is instead the symbol of the Evil. Passing on to the right we can see the scene of the Good Shepherd with the Mystic Flock. Christ is portrayed as a beardless young man bearing the lost lamb upon his shoulders. In one hand he holds the syrinx (the shepherds' flute), symbol of the gentleness he takes care of his flock with. He is surrounded by land, sky and sea animals, because his flock is composed of all men "of good will", of whatever race and culture. In the clipeus we see several portraits of benefactors (a man wearing a toga, a veiled woman and girls). In the other round frames there are the images of the seasons (Summer and Autumn; Winter and Spring have been destroyed by the foundations of the columns) and of the acrostic fish ICHTYS ("ichtys" is the Greek name for "fish"; each single letter is the initial letter of the words "Iesus Christòs Theu Yòs Sotér", meaning "Jesus Christ Son of God the Saviour"). Close to the carpet with the portraits we can see the images of the donors and of the Christian Victory. The classic winged Victory bearing a laurel crown and the palm branch for the winner has been transformed into the Christian Victory donating the Eucharist to the believer winning the battle against the sins. The magnificent Fishing scene is a work of the Sea Master and describes the preaching of the Apostles ("Follow me and I will make you fishers of men": Matthew 4,19). The fishes represent the people listening to the good news, the boat is the symbol of the church, the net (but also the fishing-line) represents the kingdom of heaven ("The kingdom of heaven is like a big net that was cast into the sea…": Matthew 13,47). In the great fishing scene we can admire the three episodes concerning Jonas and representing the allegorical announcement of death, resurrection and ascent to heaven of Christ: Jonas swallowed by the sea monster, Jonas thrown up by the monster, Jonas resting under the pumpkin tree