St. Severus of Ravenna: The Iconography

At Ravenna, St. Severus, bishop. He was chosen [bishop] by the sign of a dove on account of his outstanding merits. – Roman Martyrology for February 1

St. Severus of Ravenna was a poor man who lived in the 4th century. He went with his wife to observe the election of a new bishop for Ravenna. When he arrived at the church a white dove landed three times on his shoulders, so the people took this as a sign elected him. Years later, when he was about to die he peacefully closed himself into his grave and expired.
A 6th-century apse in Poreč, Croatia. Christ gives laurel crowns to two bishop (?) saints. (Follow this link for further details.)
The "St. Severus" labeled in the mosaic above seems to be a conflation of two saints of that name, both natives of Ravenna. The man is portrayed as a bishop like our St. Severus, the white band on his left shoulder apparently part of a pallium. Yet he is receiving a laurel crown, usually a symbol of martyrdom. A different St. Severus was martyred in Ravenna during the reign of Maximian, and some early records confused him with the bishop (Acta Sanctorum, January vol. 1, 20-21). The confusion seems to be behind this portrait of a "St. Severus" who is both a bishop and a martyr.

Prepared in 2019 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University.


A portrait of St. Severus of Ravenna in Sant'Apollinare in Classe, near Ravenna. (See the description page.)


  • The feast of St. Severus the bishop of Ravenna is on February 1. Wikipedia puts his death in about the year 348.
  • Some early texts record St. Severus the martyr in Ravenna as being martyred on January 1 during the reign of Maximinian (286-305).
  • Yet another martyr of the same name, St. Severus of Alexandria, is celebrated on January 11. He was martyred in 309.