The Theotokos Chapel
(at the time of bishop Leontius, early VII century)
The mosaic in the Theotokos Chapel, which was added to the southern wall of the basilica, as a continuation of the baptistery chapel, is the last dated work with which the restructuring and embellishment of the sanctuary was completed. The mention, in the dedicatory inscription which runs along the whole length of the step, of the two Abbots Martyrius and Theodore, who at the time of bishops Sergius and Leontius, oversaw the carrying out of the works, underlines the organic unity of the project foreseen by Martyrius and brought to its conclusion by his successor Theodore .
The decorative programme of the Theotokos Chapel, divided as it is in two distinct areas by the step, generally repeats the plan found in the baptistery although it turns out to be much more complex in the decoration of the nave.
In the raised apsed presbytery, the deep semicircle of the conch is underlined by a multiple band which surrounds the central field of flowers which is enclosed on the sides by two lines of black tesserae. One band is made up of triflids alternated with circles and diamond-placed squares with the addition of white tesserae on a background of red tesserae. This is followed by a thin band consisting of a meander drawn with a line of black tesserae on a yellow background. A further line of black diamond-placed tesserae linking red and white diamond shaped motifs is added in the border between the band and the apse's splay.
In the area in front of the apse there is a rectangular panel which extends to the full width of the chapel. The panel is closed by a double polychromatic guilloche on a dark background included between two lines of black tesserae. Two lines of vertical flowers decorate the white tesseraed border which separates the panel from the side walls.
The scene at the centre of the panel takes us back and reminds us of the biblical sacrifices, offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, mentioned in the Old Testament. There are two bulls facing each other with an architectural representation between them. The key to the interpretation of the scene is given by the addition, in the upper part, of the citation in Greek of Psalm 51:21: Then they shall lay calves upon Thy altar.
The two bulls were partially disfigured during the iconaclastic crisis. Of the one on the left there remains the hind and hind legs and a long tail with a tuft of hair at the extremity. One can still see the legs and tail as well as its naturalistically accented sexual organ of the bull on the right, of which the horns and muzzle still remain.
The edifice, represented in schematic form, reminds one of a niche with a simplified shell shaped tympanum. The lateral supports, starting from two bases made of yellow tesserae, are subdivided by horizontal black, red and white lines. At the top, black and white radial lines of tesserae subdivide the closing semicircle. Within the niche, two bands of black and yellow tesserae underline, at the top, an enclosed area separated from the semicircle and, in the lower part, what could be a vestibule or door situated between the two bases. In the central area thus delimited we have a triangle of red tesserae with tesserae jutting out sideways to indicate a flame. Immediately above there is a domed tabernacle. The cupola is made of dark coloured tesserae and is supported by four small columns made of yellow ones. At the centre of the tabernacle there is a red-tesseraed table with two supports made of black tesserae. The intention of the mosaicist must have been to remind us of the offering table inside the temple .
The intentionally symbolic scene was framed on either side with tufts of flowers on tall stems, two of which have buds made of red tesserae, and two gazelles. The gazelle on the left was spared defacement at the hands of the iconoclasts. Slim and tall on its long legs with the body made of yellow tesserae stained in parts with dark and white ones. The mosaicist hung on the animal's neck a small bell.
The rectangular surface of the nave between the end wall and the step leading to the presbytery is enclosed by a band decorated with a fluted ribbon having small branches, upright and overturned in the spaces between the folds, with the addition of spheres on the dark background. The panel is further surrounded by a second band consisting of lunes and squares on the white border.
The inner space is subdivided into two lateral geometric panels which frame a hunting scene in the centre separated by a band of simple T-shaped meanders obtained from a single line of black tesserae on a white background.
The eastern panel is uniformly decorated with a network of flowers with the resulting rhombi laden with opened corolla carefully executed in the form of a cross. The long, two-lined, dedicatory inscription is inserted on the eastern side, inside the band.
The western panel is much more elaborately decorated. it is subdivided into two panels by a band made up of double returning swastika meanders alternated with squares containing fruit and animals.
The best preserved motifs in the band are those representing vegetables, which were not ruined by the iconoclasts: a bunch of grapes and four pomegranates on the west side, as well as four pears on the north side. On the eastern side there still remains recognizable, in spite of the iconoclastic damage, the outline of a partridge
The same motifs decorate also the resultant spaces obtained from the double geometric composition made of a cross formed out of four laced circles. Floral motifs are inserted in the semicircles forming the arms and a completely disfigured motif occupied the medallion formed by the central circle. In the resulting space between the arms in the northern square there is still well preserved a roundish fruit and knife, also one can recognize the outline of a bird holding a necklace by its claws . The only motif which is visible in the south square is a fruit and a curved knife in one of the resultant spaces of the composition .
The few surviving portions of the central panel indicate that this was a hunting scene. There remains the lower part of an edifice on the north side. A bow with a somewhat taut string held by a hand that supports an arrow points to a huntsman depicted in the act of notching his arrow. The front tensed legs of a horse in gallop are attributable to a second hunter as well as a lance, the elbow and the outline of the head. Further down on the edge of the break, there survive two legs attributable to a dog. There follow the foliage of a tree and a third tree with the paw of an animal, possibly the prey. Under the horse's legs there remains a diagonal polychromatic band .
A hunting scene can approximately be reconstructed with huntsmen on foot and on horseback armed with bow, arrows and lance who are chasing their prey together with their dogs