The early Christian architecture means the earliest period of Christian architecture, which developed in the Roman Empire in the late antiquity. During the Christianization of the Roman Empire, the places of worship settled in houses of notables, some ancient converted pagan temples as well as in the civil basilicas of the forums, because unlike the temples the vast basilicas could accommodate the crowd of the city and gather the faithful. But quickly, the lack of space for the needs of the new cult led to the construction of new buildings on the model of the old civil basilicas, whose plan is adapted to the Christian liturgy, which leads to the basilica plan, which will become the plan most widespread church throughout the history of Christian architecture. At the same time, other plans have developed,in a rotunda with central dome, usually for baptisteries and shrines dedicated to saints like martyriums at first.
A basilica is a type of building, usually a church, that is typically rectangular with a central nave and aisles, usually with a slightly raised platform and an apse at one or both ends. In Europe and the Americas it is the most common architectural style for churches though this building plan has become less dominant in new buildings since the later 20th century. Today the term basilica is often used to refer to any large, ornate church building, especially Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, even if it does not strictly follow this style.
The basilican architectural style originated in ancient Rome and was originally used for public buildings where courts were held, as well as serving other official and public functions. The basilica was centrally located in every Roman town, usually adjacent to the main forum. As the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, the major church buildings were typically constructed with this style and thus it became popular throughout Europe.
During the reign of Constantine a turnaround takes place because it is entirely based on the new data of Christianity. He changed Rome and the world.
Even before the year 313, when the edict of Milan guaranteed Christians the free practice of their religion, Constantine recognized that Christianity was the greatest spiritual force of the whole Empire. He captures the energies that are about to explode and gives them free rein without stifling the forces of living paganism. In the basilica built by Maxence, his statue in the apse no longer has the expression of a pagan Jupiter but that of a human creature who has the intuition that the divine majesty surpasses him. To appropriate this basilica, he added a second apse and a vestibule on the side to turn it into a nave building.
He is the first ruler who places man in the center of the Universe. The new works no longer looking to translate an outdoor life, subject to the organic law of nature to gravity but create a luminous spiritual universe that transcends earthly life.
It is surprising to find dice the 4th century, in all provinces of the Empire, churches that adopt the same form of basilica with three naves. Aesthetically, in the interior, all its basilicas are similar, and it is possible that Christians have stuck to this type of hall because they are suitable for their liturgical meetings. They appreciate the effect that a basilical room produces on the one who enters through the middle door: the symmetrical double colonnade he finds in front of him directs his gaze towards the altar table fixed in the back. For the choir with its Eucharistic table is motionless in front of the apse and nothing better expresses the idea of the divine stay. The choir evokes the intelligible sky and the nave is the earth.
The origin of the Christian basilica
The origin of the Christian basilica is controversial, original creation or imitation of pagan models?
For the architect Alberti, the Christian basilica is only the reproduction by Christianity of the judicial basilica of the Romans and this hypothesis is taken up by Viollet-le-Duc, Auguste Choisy, Jules Quicherat but they all present different models. From simple rooms without internal columns, that of Maxentius consists of three vaulted naves, others like the basilica Julia are vast porticoes open on all sides and the Basilica Ulpia of Trajan is formed of two opposite apses. This solution does not seem satisfactory to all scholars.
For Dehio and Bezol, it derives from the ancient house because the cult is celebrated in the house of the great characters. Now the Roman house is composed of a vast atrium which continues to the right and to the left by two wings forming the bases of a cross. On these wings opens a large square room, the hall of honor where the master celebrates domestic worship. The difficulty is the lack of the double pillar of the Christian basilica but the Roman atrium has changed under the influence of Greece and Pompeii, there are houses with double colonnades. The Roman house with its nave, its transept, its apse becomes a real basilica.
The discovery of the domus ecclesiae of Doura Europos and the underground walls near the apse of the Basilica San Martino ai Monti show that Christian worship is celebrated in ordinary houses with rooms opening onto the courtyard.
For G. Leroux, the Christian basilica is not a creation of Christian art but an adaptation to the new cult of an older monumental form. The Christian basilica with its apse, narrow forehead, and three vessels is identical to the civil basilica of the Greek model. The Christian assembly hall resembles the halls of the assemblies of pagan brotherhoods such as the Baccheion of Athens or the sanctuary of the Syrian goddess of the Janiculum, which was called basilica.
The basilicas of the 4th century
Emperor Constantine himself founded several basilicas in Rome: St. John Lateran (312-319), St. Peter Vatican dedicated in 326 and members of his family do the same. Other churches are founded in Jerusalem: Holy Sepulcher, Bethlehem, Mount of Olives in 325-337 and Constantinople: St. Sophia, Holy Apostles in 333-337. Constantius II completes some of them without much rainfall, while popes and bishops build them in Rome and throughout the Empire. We know the sanctuary of Ascension in Jerusalem, San Sebastian-outside-the-Walls, St. Agnes Outside the Walls, St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, and St. Peter and Marcellin in Rome, St. Peter’s Cathedral in Trier, Gerasa Cathedral in Palestine, the Church episcopal Epidaurus in Greece and several churches in Syria and even in Mesopotamia North whose baptistery of Nisibis.
In the 4th century, basilicas are occidentées and the entrance facade to the east, the structure is rather poor with rich decorative murals and mosaics.
After the death of Contantin, wait until the advent of Theodosius I st in 379 to find a new development, sustainable and definitive construction with prochrétienne and antipaïenne policy antiarienne of Theodosius and his successors.
St. John Lateran
The Basilica of St. John Lateran is built on the site of the palace Laterani family. It is confiscated and given by Constantine to Pope Miltiade. In 313, the first council takes place there and it becomes the ordinary residence of the popes.
The plan of this first Christian basilica expresses above all the function. As in the civil basilicas where the throne of the apse catches the eye and it is replaced by the altar in the Christian basilica. Saint-Jean-de-Latran is a simple building nearly one hundred meters long by fifty meters wide because it must accommodate the entire Christian community of Rome in its function as church of the assembly. Its structure is simple with large arches, gutter walls, high windows and a roof structure that does not generate side forces. If Constantine finances this basilica, it is built with economy and we see capitals of several styles that seem to recovery.
A mural by Gaspard Dughet at the Basilica San Martino ai Monti shows the interior of St. John Lateran before 1650.
St. Peter’s of Rome
The ancient basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome is built very quickly, in about ten years from 323 to 333. It is known by excavations and the very precise plan of Tiberrii Alpharai from 1540. Its plan is similar to that of the Basilica of St. John Lateran with a greater development of the transept. It is a church with five naves whose two inner colonnades carry an architrave, more expensive solution than the arches in semicircular used in Saint-Jean-de-Latran. The bedside like that of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalemis oriented to the west, its wall is flat with a projecting apse. The basilica is preceded by an atrium lined with four porticoes to gather the faithful. This basilica plan with five naves, salient transept and atrium will be taken over by other churches in Rome beginning with St. Paul Outside the Walls built under Theodosius.
We see on the map 1540 funeral of rotundas Theodosians that are at the end of 4th century or the beginning of the 5th century during the reign of Theodosius. One of the princesses is buried there and Charlemagne restores the other to make it his grave but he would have chosen the palatine chapel of Aix-la-Chapelle.
Before the construction of the crypt by Gregory the Great in the 6th century, the vision of the tomb of St. Peter is presented to the faithful under a canopy with spiral times columns symbolically in subsequent constructions, with curtains that hide a door that we open at certain ceremonies. There is no altar.
During the construction of the crypt, this place of pilgrimage is transformed into a Eucharistic place with a ciborium altar located just above the saint’s tomb. The annular crypt leads to a space where St. Peter rests and organizes a new journey of the faithful.
Basilica of the Nativity of Bethlehem
The basilica of the Nativity of Bethlehem is the only Basilica Constantine that is almost intact except the bedside and ceilings. It is founded by Saint Helena mother of Constantine to glorify the sanctuary of the Nativity of Christ. The architectural order is both new, grand and harmonious. The sacred crypt is covered by a sort of octagonal box with conical dome framed surmounted by a lantern and a central edicule open on the altar of the Nativity. For the purposes of worship a basilical vessel with five naves is preceded by a spacious atrium with covered galleries. This church ignores the reuse, the barrels of the columns.
The Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem
The Holy Sepulcher Jerusalem built by Constantine has a length of 138 meters, a width varying from 38 to 45 meters and reads three churches erected on the three different holy sites.
A rotunda 36.5 meters in diameter, called the Anastasis, built around 350, with a dome and is located in a cave, burial place of Jesus. A large basilica, the Martyrium with 5 naves, being 56 meters long by 40 meters wide and an oriental atrium surrounded by columns and opening to the east on the cardo maximus by three large portals, the propyla, which overlook the forum.
The Tomb is housed in the center of the rotunda by a small building the Edicule. The rotunda and Martyrium are connected by an open court and double colonnade on three sides encompassing within it the rock of Calvary 26. The basilica is oriented east-west, like the Temple of Jerusalem.
You can see a representation of the Holy Sepulcher in the 6th century on the Madaba map, a mosaic of the Church of Madaba in Jordan and a plan of Bishop Arculf.
The basilicas cirquiformes
In Rome, a type of basilica of pilgrim pilgrimages linked to the pilgrims’ walk before entering the sanctuary is characterized by a lack of transept and the arrangement of the chevet in a semicircle. The side walls of the nave meet in a semicircle and those of the collaterals also create a peripheral circulation around the holy place.
After a temporary success 4th century, this type of circus-like churches is abandoned.
Four copies are known all outside the walls, in Roman cemeteries. The most famous on the via Apia Basilica San Sebastián-outside-the-Walls dates back to the Constantinian era, the ruins of the original church of St. Agnes-outside-the-Walls on via Nomentana are also important with the still-existing mausoleum of Saint-Constance and the basilicas Saints-Pierre-et-Marcellin 28 and Saint-Laurent-hors-les-Murs built on the same architectural principle.
The basilicas of Syria, Greece and North Africa in the 4th century
Of all the provinces of the Empire, Syria is the only one who kept a series of basilicas 4th century. In the north of Syria, the basilicas are similar with three naves, two arches and a skylight, the arches rest on columns and they are all solid. The chevet seems derived from the Roman buildings of the country, the central nave has a semicircular apse that does not protrude outside and is flanked by two walls that separate the collaterals from two rooms. The whole forms an almost autonomous bedside. The large construction apparatus used is neat and allows to see some facades with doors with carved frames and triangular pediments. The main buildings that can be dated from the 4th century century are those of Fafirtin, Serjilla, Ruweha, Simkhar, Karab Shams and Brad.
In the south of Syria, which is a basaltic region, the walls and roofs are built of blocks of lava whose maximum dimensions of three meters in width determine the width of the rooms. The Syrians developed a system of massive arches by multiplying them to support the slabs. By opening three successive arches in the same wall of refend they manage to constitute species of basilicas with three naves. This system passes from civil constructions to the Christians but does not exceed the limits of Southern Syria. Among the ruins, two are dated, Umm El Jimal, Julianos church, the chapel of Der El Kahf and some others are of the 4th century, a building with a single room and two facilities with three naves: Nimreh and Tafha.
At the same time, other provinces had sanctuaries with a form of basilica. In Ephesus, two rows of columns are built in a gymnasium, in Corinth, Epidorus, there are basilicas with five naves close to the Roman model but they are embedded in secondary buildings. If the martyria were developed later, we can note the person of Corinth and Antioch-Kaoussi a cross aisle sheltering the relics of the saint Babylas.
In North Africa, they are all in ruins but we can note that they are large. The most interesting examples are the churches of Timgad, Damous el-Karita, Hippone (Annaba), Orleansville (Chief) and especially Tebessa 29 which gives us a general idea of a large Christian ensemble with a basilica, an atrium and many outbuildings.
The Armenian architecture of the early Christian era is inspired by those of neighboring regions.
The basilicas of 5th and 6th centuries
A Christian basilicas forest stands over the whole of the Empire 5th century where we try to remove the churches of unusual shapes and replacing them with regular basilicas. In Salone, Croatia, an old sanctuary is transformed into a church with three naves with a double row of arcaded columns, an apse and an open entrance facing the chancel. In Syria, the churches of the 4th century which are types of local buildings adaptations become normal basilicas and the differences between the North and South of the country tend to disappear. Then, for more than a century, the basilical-style Christian buildings do not evolve or very little.
Rome and Italy
In Rome, founded in 386 and completed around 440, St. Paul Outside the Walls reproduces St. Peter’s Church of Rome from Constantine. Santa Maria Maggiore built from 432 to 440 keeps intact the broad lines of its architecture with its mosaic decoration and only the choir weighed down by its baroque altar is not the 5th century. There is a particularity of the Roman basilicas of this century, the presence of the opposite side to the apse of a triple bay as Saints-Jean-and-Paul and Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens. The Santa Sabina churchhigh 410 is a valuable monument basilical with three rooms separated by 24 columns and polychrome marble coverings very enlightened.
In Ravenna, this branch of Christian architecture is inspired by that of the martyria of Milan. They are mostly basilicas with three or five naves, two rows of arches and a projecting apse as in Saint-Jean-l’Évangéliste 425, Saint-Apollinaire-le-Neuf, 519, Saint-Apollinaire in Classe, 549 and the most original, the Sainte-Croix church, which was to have a single nave room, preceded by a transverse narthex. These churches are only disduised in detail.
In Spoleto, the Basilica of San Salvatore with its transept without lateral projection, crossed by the colonnades of the nave is one of the best preserved Paleochristian churches.
In Gaul, very few monuments remain, the 5th century, the small underground basilica of St. Victor Marseille and 6th century church St Peter in Vienna.
One can get an idea of the architecture that appears by the veneer of arches on columns against the facings of the building. These blind arches that transform the walls smooth into structured surfaces show the concern for the plastic and pictorial treatment of forms. In Vienna, this arrangement of Eastern origin used in the Roman provinces consists of two orders superimposed columns and arcades. This decorative effect can be enhanced by mosaics and stuccoes.
With its ports open to the West and the East, Christian Africa is Mediterranean and Eastern. Its radiation reaches Spain and is still perceptible in the Visigothic period. Most buildings are built with little care and often with materials for the reuse of pagan temples. The best examples are in Tunisia and date from the Byzantine reconquest. With the exception of single-nave sanctuaries such as Batna and Tabia, the basilica basilica basilica is framed with very large vessels, with multiple naves and sometimes with double columns or pillars where the arch is the rule. at Carthage-Dermesch 33and to Henchir-Goussa. After a fire, Sainte-Salsa near Tipasa passes from three to five naves and in the great basilica of Tipasa they are seven in number.
Construction details testify the relationship with the buildings of Orient and there are stands in Tébessa, a vestibule or narthex between two strains of towers in Morsott and Tipasa, a counter-apse facing the choir with side entrances to Mididi and Feriana.
In the 6th century in Andalusia, the construction details of buildings present in East Africa: against apse fitted in the wall facing the bedside are found in the basilicas of alcaracejos Vega del Mar San Pedro Alcántara, from Casa Herrea de Mérida.
In Egypt Christians use the abandoned temples and Dendera is performed at 6th century Christian in a room inside the temple of Hathor.
The prosperity of the country to the 5th century and 6th century promotes the construction of churches closely resembling and similar basilica at the end of the 4th century in northern Syria. Then Southern Syria adapts its methods of construction to the same type plan. If these churches are all in ruins, their beauty lies in the precision of the assembly of stones such as the vault of the church of Kfer, Ruweiha I, South Church, St. Mary of Cheith Sleiman and the use of an architrave instead of arches. The Karab Chem church is narrow and slender with many openings in front.
A type of basilica found in El-Bura, El-Hosn, I, long and narrow, with inner columns, with on both sides of the apse and the main entrance, two rooms connected by porticos is imitated at Ereruk in Armenia.
The designers of the 6th century improve technical processes and artistic expression of ancient facades. Added chapel 6th century church Simkhar an example of reorganized facade with a portal festoon a rather baroque effect.
The 5th century 6th century, attempts regularity and tends to isolation of the church which was often integrated in a frame together into a monument. All plans show similar churches with the same tripartite choir and the same three naves. The most archaic long and narrow have columns fairly close to each other as Ruweda I where they are connected by arches and surmounted by a skylight.
In the most advanced types, the columns are replaced by tau pillars, three to four, seven and nine meters wide between the pillars. The church of Bizzos in Ruweha II and that of Qalb Lozeh are therefore similar to the purely Byzantine churches of the same period where there is a dome in the middle of the nave. In the Syrian Church of the 6th century, this lack dome and the nave are longer and narrower than in the Byzantine achievements. Qalb Lozeh with a single projecting apse, a narthex and two square towers on the side of the entrance, an aspect that evokes the future Romanesque and Gothic basilicas.
It is possible that the prestige of Constantinople is touching the Syrian designers and the missing but studied basilica of Tourmanin was to be the masterpiece of this type of construction. One can note the role under Justinian, architects and workers of Constantinople including Isidore the Younger, one of the designers of Hagia Sophia in Syria and perhaps in the supposed cathedral of Resafaet Qasr ibn Wardan.
Palestine – Mesopotamia
The creation of the New Jerusalem of Constantine is continued by the Theodorian empresses and finally by Justinian and his contemporaries. In the 5th and 6th centuries, the influence of Christian art had to be important, and even in Italy, we see the influences of the sanctuaries of Christian Palestine. There is a lot of memoria with sometimes a rapprochement with basilicas.
At that time in Palestine, after the closing of pagan temples, there exists only the religious architecture of Jews and Christians. The synagogues and basilicas only adapt to their needs the Hellenistic basilica hall. The influence of Jewish buildings, if it does not touch the great Christian monuments, for small local buildings like the memoria, Christian designers had to borrow from synagogues.
The basilica of El- Tabgha stands around the stone of the multiplication of loaves and fish. This stone is embedded in front of the altar, at the entrance of the choir and in front of the back wall is a transept without lateral projection, probably to widen the space in front of the relic.
In Gerasa, the cathedral retains the staircase and the entrance door and we preferred to overcome the columns of architraves rather than arcades. The church of Saints Peter and Paul has three apses in the massif of a flat chevet which announces the model adopted by the Carolingian architecture three centuries later. The later church of Genesis built around 611 offers a draft transept in front of the apse and the choir is separated from the nave by a transverse fence.
The history of Christian architecture in Mesopotamia distinguishes two regions. In Middle Mesopotamia around Baghdad. The notion of church is linked to that of the basilica with its elongated rectangle plan, the two rows of columns that follow the side walls and the principle of the juxtaposition of the three-vessel hall and a tripartite chevet. Their interpretation by the local builders resembles Sassanid palaces whose Christian masters owe more than to the architects of neighboring Syria. Christians borrow the principles of coverage: vaults in cradles, half-caps and whole caps. Undated buildings older than 640 are present at Ctesiphon and Al-Hirah.
In the regions of Mesopotamia of the North, Nisibis, Edessa, Amida, Melitene, the Persian contributions do not appear any more but the influence of Syria and Palestine is felt. In Hah, the church of the Virgin (al-Hadra) has a rise in whichever maintained by the arches doubleaux which divide into three vaults, a dome and two half-cupola the cover of the nave. But at Salah or Qartamin, the lateral apses and the division into three vaults disappear. The Saint Sophia Cathedral of Edessa at the end of the 6th century century is known only by a description with a central plan and a dome that show the influence of contemporary architecture of Constantinople.
In this important province for the history of Christian architecture, there are several distinct groups that are not the manifestation of one and the same art of Asia Minor. The variety of versions is characteristic and the architects of the rich cities of South Asia Minor have been more inventive and innovative than their colleagues in Syria.
A first group of churches is in the former provinces of Cilicia and Isauria and in neighboring Cappadocia. The Korykos Cathedral of Isauria is the most common type. The naves, with their two rows of arches on columns are preceded by a nartex and the apse is octagonal outside as in Constantinople. A second church, extra-muros is basilica with a transept, two local apsidioles flanking the main apse. Still in Korykos, a church with a martyrium offers a vault of superimposed stone seating, and the chevet deviates from the ruler by adding premises to the three apses.th century to interpret the functions they have to deal.
In Phrygia there are two basilicas of the 5th century Hierapolis which is a short and wide preceded by a narthex, an atrium and an apse with five sides. Meriamlik, a nearby town, preserves the ruins of several sanctuaries and the underground Basilica of St. Euphemia famous in ancient times. In Cilicia, Ak Kala dice can observe the 5th century regional arch process is a very neat paired facing concealing vaults made of the debris of stones and cement. This technique is found in 6th century in Dag Pazarli. The monastery of Alahan Monastir or Koça Kalessi also in Cilicia with three churches with a court and funerary monuments dated around 450. The most interesting Lase has a syrian tripartite choir preceded by a central rectangle whose sides are extended by arcades. A transverse element with a large and two small arches intersects the space between the central rectangle and the entrance wall. In elevation, fallopian corners of the tower seem to be regional differences that we found in the bedside towers of the Basilica of Resafa Sergiopolis- 34.
The region of the Aegean Sea and Constantinople
In this region of Greece, North of the Balkans, Western Asia Minor and Constantinople, the hundred or so monuments in Greece and the Balkan provinces of the Empire are closer to those of the Aegean coast of Asia Minor than those of the East of Anatolia. Excavations of Ephesus and Philippi show that properly Byzantine architecture was formed from the 4th century starting from the own tradition in the Aegean region.
In Ephesus, the Episcopal Church is installed at the 4th century in a gymnasium 2th century. Using its porticoes, it is given a basilica appearance with three naves. The following transformations of this famous building reflect the revolution of religious architecture under the influence of Constantinople, the 6th century in this region. The basilica cimetériale of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus in 451, with a single nave and brick vault seems to reflect the domed churches that form in Constantinople in the 6th century.
On the Aegean Sea, the basilicas of Corinth and Epidaurus are perhaps the 4th century, Greece and the islands, the plans are very stable with three naves, two arches that separate a projecting semicircular apse at exterior, a narthex and a roof framing. The bedside tables are varied and adapted to different practical needs and aesthetic requirements. Epidaurus to a transept without lateral projections, Philippi to a crank collateral developed by the Basilica Demetrius of Salonica. Doumétios in Nicopolishas a frankly clear transept and Dodona in Epirus has at the lateral projections of the transept, the form of apsides giving to the bedside a form of anybody. In Athens, in the Basilica of Illissos, four pillars mark the location of a species of ciborium. In Constantinople, before the reign of Justinian, the churches are similar to those in the Aegean area. Along with that of Top Kapi Sérail, other foundations of buildings with large and short naves exist at Bayazid Square, but the most famous is the Saint John Church of the Monastery of Stoudion. At the basilica Hagia Sophia present, excavations revealed a portico façade topped by a pediment, in the manner of a classical temple.
In the 6th century, Justinian brings to Byzantium and its region a radical transformation of religious architecture which is an essential aspect of Byzantine art. In 532, after the revolt of Nika and the fire of Hagia Sophia, Justinian decided to rebuild it with colossal expenses and materials from all over the Empire. The essence of this architecture on square plan is the large central dome and the pillars, arches and secondary vaults that supports it. The horizontal forces are taken up by a metal belt and a heavy load of peripheral walls.
Under Justinian, several churches of the city are rebuilt starting from the architectural principles of Hagia Sophia. The church of the Holy Apostles on cruciform plan divided into six square elements are covered with a dome. Saints Serge and Bacchus is rectangular crowned with a brick dome resting on eight pillars which generates an octagonal room. St. Irene has a cupola on a square before the apse and the short, wide nave is covered with a vault of unknown form.
At Philippi, two churches side by side with similar plans show a robust building 5th century and one from the 6th century crowned with a dome. We can see the passage between the two techniques. In Bulgaria, in Pirdop, the choir of the basilica is shot to build a brick dome with its own support, which shows the will to cover the churches domes, even without changing the rest of the building.
The influence of the creative home of Constantinople, if it is not easy to define, is found in Serbia in Konjuh, Greece around Salonika at the Saint Sophia Church, on the island of Paros. On the Adriatic coast of the Aegean Sea, at Ephesus, the Church of St. John and that of the Virgin Mary are two excellent examples.
Source from Wikipedia