Goths – Goth… There we are. Gothic. “Barbarous, rude, uncouth. Goth – one of a Germanic tribe who invaded the Roman Empire.”

In the lexicon of hate spawned by the Dark Ages, a special places is set aside for the Goths. The Dark Ages are full of nasties, but the Goths are particularly spooky.

If you walked down the street where I live in London, in Camden Town, you’ll find plenty of modern Goths wondering about.

Dark Age Nasties
Dark Age Nasties

Goths – Visigoths, Ostrogoths

They are dressed from head to toe in black and covered in satanic insignia. And trying so hard to look doomy.

And, I just want to give them all a big hug and tell them to cheer up, because if they want to be Goths, they should be like real Goths – energetic, colourful, inventive.

The kind of people who created this amazing ceiling. Stunning isn’t it? I love the way the mosaic sparkles with all that gold and throws light all around the dome. It’s so exciting.

But there is something peculiar about it too. Something slightly awkward.

That’s obviously Jesus up there being baptised, but why is he so pink and flaccid, and not very divine? How did Jesus and up like this?

\gothic Ceiling
gothic Ceiling

Originally, the Goths came from up here – the Baltic coast. They were farmers, successful farmers, but when their population exploded, they made their way south to the Black Sea. Searching for better land and better farming conditions.

When the Goths moved south, they came into direct contact with the Roman Empire, and their history immediately grew more problematic.

It would take me a long time to deal with the twists and turns in relation to the Goths and their migrations.

But, to boil it down to its essentials, when they settled here in the South, they found themselves in the way of the Huns coming in from the east. So, to get away from them, the Goths split in two.

Goths become Visigoths and Ostrogoths

Now, some of them fled across the Danube here, and begged the Roman Empire to let them in. And they became the Visigoths, or Western Goths, and they settled initially here in France and finally in Spain.

But the other ones, they stayed put over here and joined the Huns in the Hunnic Empire, and they became the Ostrogoths or eastern Goths, and they are the ones who did this mosaic ceiling.

When you think of barbarians, you think instinctively of pagans, don’t you? Of godless and violent people with strange and primitive beliefs. Conan the Barbarian is hardly altar boy material, is he?

Actually, most of the barbarians were Christians. Even the Vandals. So were the Ostrogoths and Visigoths. All of them were converted to Christianity in the fourth century. However, the form of Christianity they were converted to was unusual.

Aryan Christ
Aryan Christ

The reason why this Christ looks so unfamiliar and even peculiar is because he is an Aryan Christ, and not a Catholic one.

And, Aryan Christianity is different. Aryanism was a Christian heresy. A different form of Christianity proposed by a priest called Arius in Alexandria in Egypt in the fourth century.

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Goths Split

From there, it spread across the Roman Empire and then out among the barbarians.

The Aryans believed that Jesus was different from God. He was divine, yes. But less so. The Catholics believed that God and Jesus, father and son, were equal.

Two different forms of the same great divinity. But the Aryan’s disagreed. For them, God the Father was the one true God.

He was the God at the top. And Jesus, his son, was below him. And that’s why the Jesus up here in the baptistery mosaic looks so wimpish.

This is a Jesus who is more like the rest of us. Less divine, more human. Perhaps that’s why the barbarians preferred him. He’s less imperial, and more like them.


This is Ravenna, in northern Italy. The capital of the Ostrogoths. Right across the Empire, Catholics and Aryans distrusted each other as only co-believers can. But in Ravenna, it was the Aryans who held sway. And it was Aryan’s that created this church.

It was a bit like the Sunnis and the Shia in Islam. Same religion, different only in its details. But so antagonistic towards each other.

King Theodoric

The Ostrogoths were led by a formidable Aryan king called Theodoric

Ostrogoth Church
Ostrogoth Church

And it was Theodoric who built this. Theodoric had been brought up in Constantinople in the court of the Eastern Roman Empire.

He had been sent there by his own father as a hostage, and educated as a Roman.

So he was sophisticated and clever. Having gained the trust of the Roman emperor Zeno in Constantinople, Theodoric persuaded Zeno to let him come to Italy and reconquer it from another Germanic despot, called Odoacer.

Theodoroc invited Odoacer to a banquet in his honour and there, he murdered him with his bare hands, or so they say. And thus, Theodoric made himself ruler of all Italy, based here in Ravenna.

Ravenna San Apollinaire

Under the Ostrogoths, Ravenna thrived as never before. This is the great basilica of San Apollinaire, that Theodoric built early in the sixth century.

Theodoric Coin
Theodoric Coin

And, then filled with this spectacular parade of mosaics. Up on the ceiling baby-faced Aryan Christ performs such a lively set of miracles. Raising Lazarus from the dead. Conjuring up miraculous fish.

So up there, is the story of the young Jesus performing his miracles. And on the other side over there, the other end of the story. Christ’s terrible death and resurrection.

The Last Supper. The kiss of Judas. Below that, there is this great golden procession, the 22 virgins bearing sumptuous crowns. Lined up to pay homage to the Virgin Mary. With Jesus in her lap.

On the other side, in a kind of Aryan call and response, the 26 martyrs, dressed more simply in white and advancing in a mighty procession towards the enthroned Jesus.

What marvellous religious theatre this is. What vivid and exciting mosaics. And all you pretend Goths in Camden, if you’re watching, the REAL Goths made this.Of course, the Goths were not the only dark age nasties in our history books. The Vandals and the Huns took their share of the blame. An earlier posts asks: What did the Barbarians ever do for us?

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