Set out on your examination of the true interior by entering at the main portal, or St. Mark’s Door, (centre of West Front) should this be closed, as is sometimes the case, enter by one of the other doors, but return at once to this, at the end of the Nave, or West Arm of the Greek Gross.
In the lunette over the doorway within is a particularly beautiful and very early *mosaic of Our Lord enthroned between Our Lady and St. Mark ; the two former have their Greek monograms. This is one of the most ancient mosaics in the whole basilica. It bears the inscription (in rhyming Latin), ” I am the gate of life ; through Me, My members pass.”
Begin your examination of the Nave and Aisles, (or West Arm of the cross,) confining your attention for the present to the lower portion, up to the level of the Gallery. (The mosaics above this level are best seen from the Gallery itself, which we shall afterwards visit.) The magnificent mosaic pavement of marble and other precious stones should also be noted in every part of the building ; it presents exquisite decorative patterns and animal symbolism, the two peacocks with a central object being the most frequent design. Part of it has been “restored” and straightened with disastrous effect the older wavy portion is exceedingly lovely. Observe also the marble panelling or incrustation of the walls.
Enter the R. or S. Aisle. In the 1st arch, on the wall to the R., are good early reliefs of Our Lord between Our Lady and St. John the Evangelist. On the under side of the arch, between this and the next compartment, two excellent mosaics of St. Paul the Hermit, in his robe of rushes, and St. Hilarion, another of the early ascetics, lean and meagre, covered with leaves only. On the R. wall of the S. Aisle are fine early mosaics of Our Lady in the centre, flanked by four prophets who have prophesied of her, named, and holding rolls of their prophecies ; the two nearest to her are her royal ancestors, David and Solomon ; Isaiah’s roll bears the usual inscription, ” Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”
Now cross over the church to the L. or N. Aisle, (north compartment of the West Arm of the cross.) Here, in a position answering to that of Our Lady opposite, is a beautiful youthful **Byzantine figure of the beardless Christ, (bare-footed,) similarly flanked by four prophets who have prophesied of him. The Christ is one of the most beautiful forms in the entire building. (In very early art he is always represented beardless.)
The arcade which supports the gallery in the R. or S. Aisle has on the under side of its arches other mosaics : 1st arch, St. Julian and St. Cesarius ; 2nd and 3rd arches, decorative. (Observe here the beautiful architecture of the gallery, and the marble coating beneath it. On the floor, a fine mosaic pattern of peacocks and grapes.) 4th arch, St. Felicianus and St. Primus. The L. or N. Aisle is similarly decorated, its saints being, 1st arch, St. Fermus, and St. Felix (standing over a handsome holy-water vessel). 4th arch, Sts. Nazarius and Felicius. The quaint little tabernacle under the 4th arch is the Chapel of the Crucifix.
Do not quit this Nave and Aisles until you have grasped their relation to the rest of the building.