EARLY CHRISTIAN ARCHITECTURE



Reading: Architecture, chapter four, pp. 159--169
 
The invention of the Christian church was one of the brilliant--perhaps the most brilliant--solutions in architectural history. This was achieved by a process of assimilating and rejecting various precedents, such as the Greek temple, the Roman public building, the private Roman house, and the synagogue. The Early Christian period saw the growth of Christianity, effectively an underground Eastern mystery cult during the first three centuries AD. It was established as the state religion of the Empire under the successors of Constantine. Ecclesiastical administration set up within the framework of the Roman Empire. Little change in social and economic order. Gradual split between Eastern and Western Empire in state and church. Political and economic breakdown of the West, ending in barbarian invasions.
 
Early Christian Architecture: basilical church developed from Roman secular basilica; centralized type from Roman tombs. Basilical plan modified for liturgical requirements; congregation and clergy segregated in nave and aisles vs. transept and apse. Different variants in East and West.
 
In Rome, classical marble wall membering and vocabulary, and emphasis on massive wall, gradually replaced by broad, flat surfaces, evenly lighted; plain brick exteriors; mosaic bands of interiors. Long planes with little articulation, either horizontal or vertical.
 
Representative buildings:
 
1) King Herod's temple, Jerusalem, Israel: successor to King Solomon's temple: reconstruction before destruction in 70 AD; same site with the Dome of the Rock (fig. 334) on same terrace; Jews continue to worship at the Western Wall of the temple terrace today.
     
2) Synagogue, Dura Europos, Syria, about 230 AD: plan; west wall with Torah (Bible) niche and frescoes, today in National Museum, Damascus.
     
3) Christian house-church, Dura Europos, Syria, 230 AD: cutaway reconstruction; the baptistery: compare this house with the House of the Vettii at Pompeii, ca. 70 AD, on the lines of fig. 207.
     
     
       
4) [Old] St. Peter's basilica, Rome, c. 324--possibly 319--to 335: exterior reconstruction; reconstructed cutaway of basilica and atrium; interior reconstruction; reconstructed plans; recostructed interior view, painted while some of St. Peter's was still standing; figs. 225--226.
     
       
       
5) Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem, Israel, ca. 335: reconstructed plan in fourth century; reconstructed interior perspective of the basilica; reconstructed plan of basilica and Anastasis rotunda in fourth century; exterior today, much rebuilt; figs. 228--230.
     
 
6) Rome: Sta. Sabina, 422-432; fig. 233.
 
 
Terms:
Transept, apse, nave, aisles, atrium, catechumen