The Evolution Of Christian Architechture Essay

1685 words - 7 pages

Good essay on development of Basilica plan - History of Modern Art -

The Evolution of Christian Architecture

Certain aspects of Christian architecture changed quickly and

dramatically between the Early Christian and Gothic periods, but the basic

basilica plan remained throughout. Christian worship, being congregational,

requires a hall, and the Roman basilica - a civic lawcourt - became the early

model for both large and small churches. The basilica, processional in form, had

a long axis running from a centered doorway to the altar at the other end of the

building. They were generally shaped like a cross, either in the form of a Greek

cross (with arms of equal length) or a Latin cross (with one longer arm, the


One of the earliest examples of Christian architecture and an excellent

example of the basilica plan was Old St. Peters in Rome. It was built by

Emperor Constantine shortly after he legalized Christianity, around 333 C.E.

Like many other pilgrimage churches, it was built over the grave of a saint. It

was approached through a colonnaded atrium like that of a Roman house and

was entered from one end through a porch, or narthex. Based on the shape of a

Latin Cross, Old St. Peters had a long and wide nave, or central aisle, with a

transept crossing the nave near the front of the church. Including the nave, Old

St. Peters had five large aisles for members of the congregation to stand in

during the services. The great church was capable of holding three to four

thousand worshippers at one time. At the far end was the raised bema, which

held the altar, leading to the semicircle, half-domed apse. Like all Christian

churches of this time and times to follow, the entrance was always in the east,

leading down the nave to the apse in the west. This east-west axis was very

symbolic to the Christian faith, it signified the coming to God.

Outside, St. Peters had a simple brick exterior, but inside were walls

decorated with frescoes and mosaics, huge marble columns, and lavish altar

cloths. This symbolized the ideal Christian person, plain on the outside, but full

of riches on the inside. But despite the apparent holiness, Pagan spoils were

used throughout; columns, decorative panels, masonry, and bronze roof tiles

from imperial buildings were incorporated in the new structure. Unlike other

churches to follow, no vaulting was used in the roof. Instead it had a timber

trussed roof like other typical Roman buildings.

Another symbolic yet functional architectural device was that of the

clerestory windows above the central nave. Much light entered through these

clerestory windows, allowing light for the services and...

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