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HISTORY OF ARCHITECTURE
ARCHITECTURAL EARLY CHRISTIANITY
HANOI ARCHITECTURE UNIVERSITY
Part 1: General Influences
Part 2: Discussion Points
o Architectural character
o Building materials and construction system
o Comparative analysis
Part 3: Example Buildings
Christianity had its birth in Judaea , an eastern province of the
roman emprite, spread and carried by St.Peter, St.Paul and other
missionaries to Rome, as the center of the World – Empire.
Early Christian architecture at Rome was influenced by, and was the
logical outcome of, existing Roman architecture, modified in other parts
of the empire according to the type already recognized as suitable for the
geographical situation of those countries, such as Syria, asia minor , north
Africa, and Egypt
may be said to have acted
indirectly on Early
Christian architecture for
the ruins of roman
building often provided
the quarry where
obtained. This influenced
the style, both as regards
. Columns and other architectural features, as well as fine sculptures and
mosaics from older building, were incorporated into basilican churches of
the new faith.
North Italy has the climate of the temperate region of Europe . Center Italy is
genial and sunny. Southern Italy is almost tropical. This variety of climatic
condition is sufficient to account for diversity of architectural features and
treatment in the peninsula itself
The climatic conditions in Roman provinces as Egypt , Syria, and North
Africa where christianity was established were varied , and naturally
modified the style in those countries where the fiercer sun and hotter
climatic necessitated small windows and other Eastern features.
• In all human history there is no record so striking as that of the rise of
Christianity a phenomenon so outstanding as the rapidity with which it
was diffused throughout the civilized world, and, not only in this period
but also in all subsequent ages.
• Christianity has inspired the building of some of the greatest
The number of Christian communities established by the Apostle Paul
in his missionary journeys round the Eastern Mediterranean, in Syria,
Africa, Greece, and Italy, might lead us to expect many more ruins of
Early Christian basilican churches throughout these districts.
Old St. Peter's Basilica
• In this connection, however, it must be remembered that the God preached by
S. Paul was " not like unto gold or silver or stone graven by art and device of
man," nor a God that dwelled " in temples made with hands " like those of the
old Greeks and Romans which were built to shelter the statues of the gods.
• Purpose of the Christian church was to shelter worshippers who met for prayer
and praise to an unseen Deity, and, during the unsettled conditions at the
beginning of Christianity, various places were adapted for this worship.
• Building of pagan temples ceased before any attempt was made to build
• In A.D. 313 Constantine issued his celebrated decree from Milan, giving
Christianity equal rights with other religions.
• in A.D. 323 he himself professed Christianity, which became the official
religion of the Roman Empire, and the Christians then began to build
churches of a type suit-able to their needs and ritual.
• Constantine changed the capital of
the Empire from Rome to Byzantium
in A.D. 324, when the old Roman
political system came to an end, and
reigned as an absolute monarch till
his death in A.D. 337.
• Christianity suffered disabilities upon
the division of the Roman Empire,
which first took place in A.D. 365
when Valentinian became Emperor of
the West and his brother Valens of the
East. Colossal marble head of
Emperor Constantine the Great,
Roman, 4th century
Theodosius the Great (A.D. 379-395) reunited, for a time, the Eastern and
Western Empires, and in A.D. 438 Theodosius II published his legal code, an
important work on the constitutions of the Emperors from the time of
The series of Emperors in the West came to an end in A.D. 475, and the
Eastern and Western Empires were nominally reunited by Zeno, who reigned
Theodosius the Great
Zeno depicted on a Tremissis; the coin's
design celebrates Zeno's victories, and
was issued during his second reign.
-Then again the seat of power was changed, and
Theodoric the Goth reigned in Italy (A.D. 493–526)
during a period of peace and prosperity
-Byzantine art influenced Early Christian art
by way of Ravenna, which rivaled Rome in
importance and was the capital of the Gothic
Dynasty A.D. 493–552 with the exception of a
short period when it was subdued by Justinian
Bronze statue of
Theoderic the Great
-Kings were now elected for the separate states of
Spain, Gaul, Northern Africa, and Italy, where King
Odoacer recognized the supremacy of the one
Roman Emperor at Constantinople.
-Emancipation of Western Europe from direct
Imperial control resulted in the development of
Romano-Teutonic civilization, it facilitated the
growth of new states and nationalities, gave a fresh
impulse to Christianity, and eventually
strengthened the power of the Bishops of Rome.
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
Basilica of San Vitale
• The Early Christian period is generally taken as lasting from Constantine
to the death of Gregory the Great (A.D. 604), although in Rome and
many Italian cities it continued up to the tenth century.
• Huns incursions into Germany about A.D. 376 eventually brought about
invasions from the north into Italy, and in A.D. 410 Rome itself was
sacked by the Goths under Alaric.
Spread of the new religion was
arrested during this period of
change and upheaval, till A.D. 451,
the defeat of Attila, King of the
Huns, at the battle of Chalons
aided in the consolidation of
Christianity in Europe
Battle of Châlons
• In A.D. 568 the Lombards penetrated into Italy and held the
northern part for 200 years. In A.D. 800 Charlemagne was crowned
by the Pope in Rome, and from this date the Empire was styled the
Holy Roman Empire, a title retained till A.D. 1800.
Miniature depicting Pope Leo III crowning Charlemagne
emperor on Christmas Day, 800
Under Pope Gregory the Great
(A.D. 590–604) Early Christian
architecture, the latest phase of
Roman art, gradually fell into
disuse, and for the next two
development was practically at a
standstill in Europe
Even though the influence of
Byzantium asserted itself, old
Roman traditions were in
abeyance till the time when
Pope Gregory dictating the Gregorian chant
•Early Christian architecture may be taken to have lasted from about 300 to
•The Early Christians, as Roman craftsmen, continued old Roman traditions
•Utilized as far as possible the materials from Roman temples which had
become useless for their original purpose for their new buildings.
•Their churches, modeled on Roman basilicas, used old columns which by
various devices were brought to a uniform height.
•Early Christian buildings hardly have the architectural value of a style
produced by the solution of constructive problems.
EARLY CHRISTIAN ARCHITECTURE- INTRODUCTION
o Balitican churches had either closely spaced columns carrying the
entablature, or more widely spaced columns carrying semicircular arches.
Semicircular- according to the shape of Jesus’ halo
o The basilican church with there or five aisles, covered by a
simple timber roof, is typical of the Early Christian style as
opposed to the vaulted Byzantine church with its central
circular dome placed over a square by means of pendentives
and surrounded by smaller domes.
o It s long perspective of oft-repeated columns which carry the eye along to the
sanctuary; a treatment which, combined with the comparatively low height of
interiors, makes these churches appear longer than they really are, as it seen in S.
Paolo fuori le Mura, and S. Maria Maggiore
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EARLY CHRISTIAN
The church building as we know it grew out of a number of features of theAncient Roman period:
1. The house church
2. The atrium
3. The basilica
4. The bema
5. The mausoleum: centrally-planned building
6. The cruciform ground plan: Latin or Greek cross
a . S i m p l i c i t y i n D e s i g n a n d Tr e a t m e n t
b. Co a r s e n e s s i n E x e c u t i o n
Early Christian Architecture is Transitional Architecture
and have no own structure
1. House church
The first house church is where the disciples of Jesus met together in the "Upper Room" of a
house. For the first three centuries of the church, known as Early Christianity, Christians
typically met in homes, if only because intermittent persecution (before the Edict of Milan in
313) did not allow the erection of public church buildings. Clement of Alexandria, an early
church father, wrote of worshipping in a house. The Dura-Europos church was found to be
used as a Christian meeting place in AD 232, with one small room serving as a baptistery. At
many points in subsequent history, various Christian groups worshipped in homes, often due
to persecution by the state church or the civil government.
The Dura-Europos house church, ca. 232, with chapel area on right.
When Early Christian communities began to
build churches they drew on one particular
feature of the houses that preceded them,
the atrium, or courtyard with
a colonnade surrounding it. Most of these
atriums have disappeared.
A fine example remains at
the Basilica of San Clemente (Rome)
Basilica typical plan. Types of Apse
A, A, apse 1. Semi-circular (Italian)
B,B’, secondary apse 2. Polygonal (German)
C, high altar 3. Square (English)
G, transept 4. Compound (French)
Interior of a basilica at Pompeii
Is a rectangular early
Christian or medieval
having a nave with
clerestories, two or
four aisles, one or
more vaulted apses,
and a timber roof
SANT’ APOLLINARE, RAVENNA. PART OF THE
ARCADE AND APSE
Many basilica churches were erected out of
fragments taken from older buildings, and present
a curious mixture of columns, capitals, &c.;
others, especially those at Ravenna, exhibit more
care, and are noble specimens of ancient and
severe architectural work. The illustration which
we give of part of the nave, arcade, and apse of one
of these, Sant’ Apollinare in Classe, shows the
dignified yet ornate aspect of one of the most
carefully executed of these buildings
Parts of an Early Christian Basilica
1) Propylaeum- the entrance building of a sacred precinct, whether
church or imperial palace.
2) Atrium- in early Christian, Byzantine, and medieval architecture,
the forecourt of a church; as a rule enveloped by four colonnaded
3) Narthex- the entrance hall or porch proceding the nave of a
4) Nave- the great central space in a church. In longitudinal
churches, it extends from the entrance to the apse (or only to the
crossing if the church has one) and is usually flanked by side aisles.
5) Side Aisle- one of the corridors running parallel to the nave of a
church and separated from it by an arcade or colonnade.
6) Crossing- the area in a church where the transept and the nave
7) Transept- in a cruciform church, the whole arm set at right angles
to the nave. Note that the transept appears infrequently in Early
Christian churches. Old St. Peter's is one of the few example of a
basilica with a transept from this period. The transept would not
become a standard component of the Christian church until the
8) Apse- a recess, sometimes rectangular but usually semicircular, in
the wall at the end of a Roman basilica or Christian church. The apse
in the Roman basilica frequently contained an image of the Emperor
and was where the magistrate dispensed laws. In the Early Christian
basilica, the apses contained the "cathedra" or throne of the bishop
and the altar.
Old St. Peter's in Rome
Monumental form of tomb.
A mouseleum is a house of the dead,
although ii is often as much a symbol as
This term has been employed for large,
monumental, and stately tombs, usually
erected for distinguished or prominent
Mauseleum of Costantia (d. 534), featured a taller, domed, central
circular section surrounded by a vaulted ambulatory.
5. Latin cross and Greek cross
Greek cross; Latin cross; rotunda
These terms usually refer to the shape of a church.
A Greek cross church has four arms having the same length.
A Latin cross church has the arm of the entrance longer than the other arms.
Greek cross- the plans of SS. Martina e Luca)
Rotunda- the plans of S. Bernardo alle Terme
Latin cross plan- building process of S. Pietro in Vaticano
Lateran Baptistery, the first structure
expressly built as a baptistery
This is commonly a detached building, and almost always circular or
polygonal. In some instances the baptistery adjoins the atrium or
forecourt; but it soon became customary to erect detached baptisteries
of considerable size. These generally have a high central portion carried
by a ring of columns, and a low aisle running round, the receptacle for
water being in the centre. The origin of these buildings is not so clear as
that of the basilica churches; they bear some resemblance to the Roman
circular temples; but it is more probable that the form was suggested by
buildings similar in general arrangement, and forming part of a Roman
In Christian architecture the baptistery or baptistery, is
the separate centrally-planned structure surrounding
the baptismal font. The baptistery may be incorporated
within the body of a church or cathedral and be provided
with an altar as a chapel.
BUILDING MATERIALS & CONSTRUCTION SYSTEM
• PLANS USED BY EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCHES
• The Early
for their new
• May also have
used old Roman
and even pagan
temples as places
• These were still constructed according to Roman
methods of using rubble or concrete, faced with
plaster, brick, or stone.
• Mosaic decoration was added internally, and
sometimes also externally on west facades.
• Little regard was paid to external architectural
• Arcades, doors, and windows were either spanned by a
• Which in nave arcades, often rested directly on the capitals
without any entablatures, or were spanned by a lintel..
• Timber roofs covered the central nave, and only simple
forms of construction, such as king and queen post
trusses, were employed.
• The narrower side aisles were occasionally vaulted and
• Apse was usually domed and lined with beautiful glass
mosaics, which formed a fitting background to the
• Differ both in design and size, often
taken from earlier Roman
buildings. It was natural that early
Christian builders should use
materials and ornament of the
• Used Tuscan, Doric, Ionic,
Corinthian, or Composite from
ancient Roman buildings, except
those in S. Paolo fuori le Mura.
• The carved capitals are governed by
Roman pagan precedent and
sometimes by that of Byzantine,
and in both the acanthus leaf forms
an important part.
• Coarse variations of old Roman
types, and the carving, though
rich in general effect, is crude ;
for the technique of the
craftsman had gradually
• Enrichments were incised on
moldings in low relief, and the
acanthus ornament, although
still copied from the antique,
became more conventional in
• The introduction of color gave
richness and glimmering
mystery to interiors.
• The mosaics which was the
principal form of interior
ornament, lined the domed
apses generally represented
Christ surrounded by apostles
and saints with all those
symbolic emblems. Usually
made of glass
• Fresco painting usually in figure
• The Church of St. Clement
• Rebuilt 1084-1108 over a 4th century church
2. Ante-portico, or porch.
3. Atrium, or court; under which the penitent, and those who had fallen away from the
faith, demanded the prayers of the passers by.
4. One of the side aisles, in which were the men, the catachumens, and the newly
5. Aisles on the right for the women, narrower than the other.
6. Space enclosed with a low wall of marble, within which were the acolytes, the exorcists,
and other functionaries of the minor orders.
7. Sanctuary terminated in a semicircle, round which is the bench for the priests with the
episcopal seat; in the center an isolated altar, and in front the Confession.
Elevation of the ante-portico or porch before the atrium of the Church of St. Clement, Rome
At the center of San
Clemente's forecourt there
is a fountain, a traditional
symbol of the Blessed Virgin
View of the nave, the schola cantorum with ambos
to either side,
the altar and confessio under the ciborium,and the
bema at the back of the apse
Front of the Ambon, designed for the reading of the Gospel,
accompanied by the column on which was, and still is, placed the
Profile of the marble pulpit for the reading of the Epistle.
Part of the low wall or dado forming the enclosure of the choir
of St. Clement. Another portion of the same.
View of the nave, the schola
cantorum with ambos to either side,
the altar and confessio under the
ciborium and the bema at the back of
The richly profiled altar is inscribed with a
dedication to St. Clement, whose relics, along with
those of St. Ignatius, lie directly underneath in the
confessio. Here is a beautiful detail, common in
paleo-Christian churches, yet unfortunately never
seen today. The confessio is simply a chamber for
relics below an altar. As a unit, the confessio and altar
form a cube, which is the ideal geometry of an altar.
The altar sits just proud of the center of the half-dome, the apse. The
spectacular mosaic tells us that this is truly the new Garden of Eden. From the
Cross's base grows a sumptuously poetic Tree of Life, filled with doves,
peacocks, phoenixes, and images of various saints.
Above the Cross is the crowned Hand of God the Father, and below the scene is the
Lamb of God surrounded by twelve lambs, the apostles, each with a corresponding
portrait on the wall below (plus the Blessed Virgin to Christ's right).
• Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe
• Ravenna, Italy
The church is on a nave and two aisles. An ancient altar in the mid of the nave
covers the place of the saint's martyrdom. The church ends with a polygonal
apse, sided by two chapels with apses.
The nave contains 24
columns of Greek marble.
The carved capitals of the
columns depict acanthus
leaves, but unlike most such
carvings the leaves appear
twisted as if being buffeted
by the wind.
The decoration of the apse date
to the 6th century, and can be
divided into two parts:
In the upper one, a large disc
encloses a starry sky in which is a
cross with gems and the face of
Christ. Over the cross is a hand
protruding from the clouds, the
theme of the Hand of God.
In the lower one is a green
valley with rocks, bush, plants and
birds. In the middle is the figure of
Saint Apollinaris, portrayed in the
act of praying God to give grace to
his faithful, symbolized by twelve
In the spaces between the
windows are the four bishops who
founded the main basilicas in
Ravenna: Ursicinus, Ursus,
Severus and Ecclesius, all with a
book in a hand.
Elevation of the Church
of Santa Fosca.
Transverse section of
the church and portico.
Plan of the Church of
Sta. Fosca at Torcello,
one of the islands of
the lagunes of Venice.
On three sides it is
surrounded by a
portico, with arches on
columns, some of
which are round, and
the others octagonal in
Basilica of Trier
C. 310 A.D.
Basilica Trier, Germany