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Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. An early supporter of the founding father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, Jung shared Freud’s interest in the unconscious, and would go on to revolutionise the psychiatric perspective of man’s placement within time and the world.1
One of his most famous theories is the theory of synchronicity. This concept argues for the existence of “meaningful coincidences” – that events are somehow “meaningful” if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be related. It is said that it was because of Jung’s “lifelong engagement with the paranormal” that he was able to make this observation. 2
Jung visits Ravenna’s Baptistery of Neon
In the early 1930s, Jung and a female “acquaintance” visited the ancient town of Ravenna in Italy, once the capital of the Western Roman Empire before it collapsed in 476. In his posthumously published semi-autobiographical book, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung describes having fallen “into a strange mood in the tomb of Galla Placidia”. Born in the 4th century AD, Placidia was the daughter of a Roman emperor and a major force in Roman politics for most of her life. This was not Jung’s first connection with the Roman princess: two decades earlier, in 1913, he had first visited her tomb, and had first felt the “same feeling”.
Writing about his second visit, Jung recalls that he and the lady he was with went “directly from the tomb”, where he had felt the strange sensation, to the Baptistery of Neon, a religious building which is the most ancient monument remaining in the city of Ravenna. It was upon entering the building that Jung described being “struck” by a “mild blue light that filled the room”. Yet, what “amazed” him the most about the building were “four great mosaic frescoes of incredible beauty”. According to Jung, the mosaics stood in place of the windows which he recalled having seen on his first visit to Ravenna in 1913.
In his autobiography, Jung describes the mosaics in great detail.
“The mosaic on the south side represented the baptism in the Jordan. The second picture, on the north, was of the passage of the Children of Israel through the Red Sea. The third, on the east, soon faded from my memory. […] The fourth mosaic, on the west side of the baptistery, was the most impressive of all. We looked at this one last. It represented Christ holding out his hand to Peter, who was sinking beneath the waves. We stopped in front of this mosaic for at least 20 minutes and discussed the original ritual of baptism, especially the curious archaic conception of it as an initiation connected with real peril of death. […] I retained the most distinct memory of the mosaic of Peter sinking, and to this day can see every detail before my eyes: the blue of the sea, the individual chips of the mosaic, the inscribed scrolls proceeding from the mouths of Peter and Christ, which I attempted to decipher.”
The “impressive” religious artwork left such an impression that, even many years later, he could “see every detail before my [his] eyes”. So captivated by their beauty, he decided he would like to purchase photographs of the four mosaics. After a quick search, he could not find any. As he was pressed for time, he decided that he would postpone the purchase until later, and “order the pictures from Zurich”. When back home, Jung asked an acquaintance – who was due to visit Ravenna – to obtain some photos for him. However, when he returned, his acquaintance explained that he had been unable to do so, for not only were the pictures nonexistent, but the very mosaics Jung had described seeing did not exist either.
Jung was shocked. He remembered seeing the mosaics, with the memory of the artwork still “vivid” in his mind at the time of writing. Jung described his experience in Ravenna as being “among the most curious events” in his life.
Did Jung have an unconscious connection with Galla Placidia?
In his book, Jung went on to explain the possible cause of his vision. As he had felt a strong connection to Galla Placidia’s tomb since his first visit, he suggested that his unconscious mind integrated with Placidia’s, and that in doing so his conscious mind became completely immersed in her history. He proposed that, in that moment of immersion, the “actual walls of the baptistery […] were covered over by a vision of some altogether different sight”.
Curiously, the lady whom Jung was with during the visit to Ravenna also remembered seeing the mosaics. Thus, far from simply being a projection of personal unconsciousness, as Jung suggested, the experience was a shared one. Jung described how his female companion “long refused to believe that what she had ‘seen with her own eyes’ had not existed”.3
What was the blue light that the pair experienced upon entering the baptistery? Did Jung’s professed connection to Galla Placidia allow him and his companion to step back in time, so as to be momentarily immersed in the Roman princess’ world?
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