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Early Christian Architecture Page 1


(Constantine to Charlemagne)

I. Geography

- started in Judea
- spread to the different parts of the Roman Empire
- eventually became the universal religion of the Roman Empire

II. Geology

- stones were quarried from existing Roman structures
- other materials indigenous to the area were used

III. Climate

- the eastern influence led to the adoption of small windows to protect against the sun
- use of stained glass, mosaic and color to take advantage of bright sun

IV. Historical, social and religious

- early Christians met in secret for fear of being persecuted
- Edict of Milan (313 AD) by Emperor Constantine granted Christians equal rights to practice
their religion
- 330AD Constantine moved capital to Byzantium (later named Constantinople, = modern-
day Istanbul)
- 364 AD Roman Empire divided into Easter Roman Empire (Emperor Valens) and Western
Roman Empire (Emperor Valentinian)
- schist between east and west culminated in the coronation of Charlemagne in 800 AD, with
his title as Emperor of the Romans
- east became the Orthodox Church, west became the Roman Catholic Church
- By 5
century AD, the western empire was conquered by the Goths; the eastern empire
survived until 1453

V. Architectural Character

- largely continuation of Roman building craft
- in most cases, stones were taken from old Roman temples to be re-used for new buildings
- principal building, church, based on the Roman basilica
- impressive and dignified
- long rows of columns in perspective
- exposed simple truss roof covered the nave
- side aisles were occasionally vaulted
- walls ere of Roman type concrete
- external appearance was not a major consideration
- very colourful interiors
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- mosaic was added to interiors

Parts of an early Christian basilica

1 Sanctuary The most sacred part of a church or temple

2 Apse The circular or multi-angular termination of a church sanctuary,
first applied to a Roman basilica. The apse is not found in
English Gothic churches; they have square terminations.

3 Bema Raised platform upon where the clergy sat/ a raised platform
reserved for the clergy in an Early Christian church..

4 Transept The part of a cruciform church that projects at right angle to
the main building.

5 Baldachino Also known as a ciborium. Canopy supported by columns,
usually over an altar or tomb.

6 Nave The central aisle of a basilican, medieval, or Renaissance

7 Aisle Lateral divisions parallel to the nave in a church.

8 Narthex A long arcaded entrance porch to a Christian basilican church.
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9 Atrium A forecourt.
10 Chancel The space for clergy and choir, separated by a screen
(cancelli) from the body of a church, more usually referred to
as the choir.

11 Cancelli Low screen walls enclosing the choir in early Christian

VI. Examples

1. Basilica
Ex.: Lateran basilica in Rome Emperor Constantines first church in Rome
Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem
Basilica of St. Peter in Rome (original structure up to 15

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem founded over what is traditionally considered
the birthplace of Jesus

2. Baptistery
- evolved from tombs
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- separate building used for baptism
- early on, adjoined the atrium or narthex of the church
- in later periods the baptistery was replaced by a fountain in the atrium
- occasionally, the Roman circular tomb or temple was used as baptistery

Ex.: Lateran Baptistery in Rome
Cathedral Baptistery in Milan
Orthodox Baptistery in Ravenna
Baptistery of Santa Maria Maggiore in Nocera

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