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Architecture in Christianity


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Title: Architecture in Christianity

Architecture in Christianity
Art and Architecture in Christianity
  • Religious Education
  • St Patricks College
  • Year 10
  • Term 2 2008

Early Christianity
Little is known about Christian art in the first
two centuries after the death of Jesus. Among the
earliest examples are the early 3d-century
paintings on the walls of the catacombs in Rome.
The catacombs are the ancient underground
cemeteries, used by the Christian and the Jewish
communities, above all at Rome. The Christian
catacombs, which are the most numerous, began in
the second century and the excavating continued
until the first half of the fifth. In the
beginning they were only burial places. Here the
Christians gathered to celebrate their funeral
rites, the anniversaries of the martyrs and of
the dead. During the persecutions, in
exceptional cases, the catacombs were used as
places of momentary refuge for the celebration of
the Eucharist.
The early Christians lived in a mainly pagan and
hostile society. During Nero's (37 68 AD)
persecution their religion was considered "a
strange and illegal superstition". The
Christians were mistrusted and kept aloof, they
were suspected and accused of the worst crimes.
They were persecuted, imprisoned, sentenced to
exile or condemned to death. Unable to profess
their faith openly, the Christians made use of
symbols, which they depicted on the walls of the
catacombs and, more often, carved them on the
marble-slabs which sealed the tombs.
Christian Symbols
The Good Shepherd with a lamb around his
shoulders represents Christ and the soul which He
has saved. This symbol is often found in the
frescoes, in the reliefs of the sarcophagi, in
the statues and is often engraved on the tombs.
  The "orante" this praying figure with
open arms symbolizes the soul which lives in
divine peace.  
The monogram of Christ is formed by interlacing
two letters of the Greek alphabet X (chi) and P
(ro), which are the first two letters of the
Greek word "Christòs" or Christ. When this
monogram was placed on a tombstone, it meant a
Christian was buried there. The fish In
Greek one says IXTHYS (ichtùs). Placed
vertically, the letters of this word form an
acrostic Iesùs Christòs Theòu Uiòs Sotèr Jesus
Christ, Son of God, Saviour. Acrostic is Greek
word which means the first letter of every line
or paragraph. The fish is a widespread symbol of
Christ, a motto and a compendium of the Christian
The dove holding an olive branch symbolizes the
soul that reached divine peace. The Alpha
and the Omega are the first and the last letters
of the Greek alphabet They signify that Christ is
the beginning and the end of all things.
Together these two letters form a monogram or
symbol for one of the names of Jesus Christ,
meaning "the Beginning and the End." The term is
found in Revelation 18 "I am the Alpha and the
Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was,
and who is to come, the Almighty."
The anchor is the symbol of salvation and of the
soul which has peacefully reached the port of
eternity. The phoenix, the mythical
Arabian bird, which, according to the beliefs of
the ancient, after a thousand years arises from
its ashes, is the symbol of the resurrection of
the bodies.
Mosaic images in early Christian Art Whereas the
style resembles that of secular Roman wall
painting, the subject matter consists mainly of
biblical figures. Jonah, Daniel, and Susanna
appear in scenes of miracles through divine
intervention. Among the motifs that symbolised
the hope of resurrection and immortality are the
fish and the peacock. Following the official
recognition of Christianity by the Roman Empire
after the Edict of Toleration or Milan in 313,
the scope of Early Christian art was radically
changed. An iconography (mosaics images) was
devised to visualise Christian concepts. For
example, Christ was symbolized by a fish, a
cross, or a lamb, or by the combined Greek
letters chi and rho (c?, the first two letters of
the Greek spelling of Christ) as a monogram.
Christ the Good Shepherd was often shown as a
beardless young man, derived from pagan
embodiments of Apollo, an image that persisted
into the 6th century in Italy.
  • In the 4th century, the great mosaic tradition of
    Early Christian art began. In basilicas,
    sequences of panels running the length of the
    nave above the column arcades would be devoted to
    Old Testament scenes or processions of saints.
  • The arch separating the nave from the
    sanctuarycalled the triumphal archwas usually
    covered with mosaics from floor to ceiling. The
    half-dome of the apse was customarily reserved
    for representations of Christ, the Virgin, andin
    churches dedicated to a saintpatron saints.
    Baptisteries and mausoleums were also decorated
    with mosaics of appropriate scenes and motifs.

Tomb of Galla Placidia in Ravenna
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
  • Fresco (Italian for fresh), method, or art, of
    painting with watercolors on plaster, while the
    plaster is still wet, or fresh.
  • Pigment is applied to the top layer of several
    layers of plaster. The painter usually applies to
    the next-to-last plaster surface a sketch of the
    painting. The outlines of the various figures and
    forms of the cartoon are then reinforced with
    dark watercolor.
  • Plaster is laid over the drawing in small
    sections, and color is applied to the wet
    plaster, often aided by another sketch of the
    color scheme. As the plaster dries, the lime in
    the plaster reacts chemically with the carbon
    dioxide in the air to form calcium carbonate
    this compound forms a film over the colors, which
    binds them to the plaster. This makes them part
    of its actual surface and also gives the colors
    an unusual clarity. The colors of a fresco are
    usually thin, transparent, and light, often with
    a chalky look.

Fresco from Pompeii
Fresco on wall of Kykkos monastery Cyprus.
Fresco in Sistine Chapel Vatican by Michelangelo
Roof of the Sistine Chapel Creation of Adam
painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512
The Last Judgement painted by Michelangelo (1537
Last Supper Leonardo da Vinci
Architecture in Religion
During the period of Roman persecution of
Christians, (Nero 37 -68 AD) most regular worship
took place privately in homes. After
Christianity was recognised by the Roman Empire,
it expressed itself in buildings. Their
architecture was made to correspond to civic and
imperial forms, and so the Basilica, a large
rectangular meeting hall became general as the
model for churches, with a nave and aisles and
galleries. The altar was placed at the east end,
where the bishop and his presbyters sat in the
apse. Pagan basilicas had as their focus a
statue of the emperor Christian basilicas
replaced the emperor with God as King of Heaven.
In Early Christian architecture a distinct
emphasis was placed on the centralized plan,
which was of round, polygonal, or cruciform shape
  Sernin, Toulouse, 1080-1120, a Romanesque.
The tower (dating from 1250, with its spire of
1478) belongs to the Gothic period.
Vault This is a construction system in
architecture used to span the space between walls
or other supports and to create a roof or a
Apse This is a semicircular projecting part of
a building, especially the east end of a church,
which contains the altar
Most sacred church
  • The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, known as the
    Church of the Resurrection (Anastasis) to Eastern
    Orthodox Christians, is a Christian church in the
    Old City of Jerusalem.
  • It stands on a site that encompasses both
    Golgotha, or Calvary, where Jesus was crucified,
    and the tomb (sepulchre) where he was buried.
  • The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been an
    important pilgrimage destination since the 4th
    century, and it remains the holiest Christian
    site in the world.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre Jerusalem
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Stairway to Calvary (Golgota), located on the
right just inside the entrance to the Church of
the Holy Sepulchre. This is the place where
Jesus was crucified.
The Tomb of Christ in the Holy Sepulchre
The site of the crucifixion in the Church of the
Holy Sepulchre
Art and Architectural periods in Christian
  • Byzantine 600 - 1000
  • Romanesque 1000 - 1200
  • Gothic 1100 - 1500
  • Renaissance 1400 - 1600
  • Baroque 1600 - 1750

  • Early Byzantine architecture was simply a
    continuation of Roman architecture.
  • One of the great breakthroughs in the history of
    Western architecture occurred when architects
    invented a complex system providing for a smooth
    transition from a square plan of the church to a
    circular dome (or domes) by means of pendentives.

A pendentive is a constructive device permitting
the placing of a circular dome over a square room
Another important feature of Byzantine churches
is the rich mosaics within the buildings. In a
society in which the average citizen could not
read, the mosaics within churches served not only
as art but as a teaching tool, reinforcing
theological truths as well as reflecting the
power of the Emperor in religion.
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Example of a Byzantine church Santa Maria
Maggiore Rome Italy
Byzantine style church Hagia Sophia, Istanbul,
The Romanesque style developed around 1000-1200
AD. It was named after the Romans because of a
similar architectural look. Between the time
of Charlemange (about 800 AD) and the beginning
of Romanesque two hundred years later, people had
built practically no big new buildings. Because
for the consistent fighting and war (Crusades)in
Europe, they were too poor to build anything
fancy. By 975, things were beginning to settle
down, and by 1000 kings and queens like William
the Conqueror were beginning to order important
stone buildings. Romanesque style buildings can
be found in France, England, Italy, Germany, and
in northern Spain. Some examples of Romanesque
buildings the cathedral and baptistery of Pisa,
Italy, was started in 1060 and 1150 AD, and the
church of St Sernin in Toulouse (1080 AD), and
the baptistery of Florence, Italy, build around
1100 AD.
Romanesque buildings were made of stone, but
often had wooden roofs because people were still
not very good at building stone roofs yet. If
they did have stone roofs, the walls had to be
very thick in order to hold up the roofs, and
there couldn't be very many windows either, so
Romanesque buildings were often very heavy and
dark inside. They had round arches, like Romans
buildings, and decorated column capitals like
the Romans too, only Romanesque capitals often
have carvings of people or animals on them
instead of plants.
The Romanesque cathedral at Vezelay (1100 AD)
This is where Bernard of Clairvaux preached the
Second Crusade
Example of a Romanesque church Cathedral of
Pisa Pisa Italy
Romanesque church Modena Cathedral Modena Italy
Romanesque church Cathedral of St Peters Worms,
  • After the Romanesque in architecture, around 1200
    AD, most people in Western Europe began to build
    Christian churches and palaces in the Gothic
    style. The easiest difference to see between the
    two styles is that while
  • Romanesque churches have round arches
  • Gothic churches have pointed arches

But there are a lot of other differences as well.
Gothic cathedrals have many more windows, and
much bigger windows, and so they are not dark
like Romanesque churches. This is because the
architects have learned some new ways of making
roofs and of supporting walls, especially the
groin vault and the flying buttress. Gothic
churches are also usually bigger than Romanesque
churches. By 1200 AD, people had more money
available, and they could afford to spend more on
building great churches. And, where many
Romanesque churches had wooden roofs (which were
always catching fire), Gothic churches had safer
stone roofs.
Gothic church Westminster Abby London England
Notre Dame Cathedral Paris France
Gothic style Salisbury Cathedral Salisbury
Gothic style church Amiens Cathedral Amiens
  • Renaissance means re-birth
  • This period from 1400 -1700 was marked by a
    cultural rebirth which influence the European
    intellectual life
  • Art Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo
    d Vinci
  • Science Galileo, Copernicus
  • Drama William Shakespeare

Renaissance St Marks Basilica Rome Italy
Renaissance style church Florence Cathedral
Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore Florence Italy
Renaissance style St Peters Basilica, Vatican
  • Baroque means highly decorated or elaborate. It
    was exemplified by drama and grandeur in
    sculpture, painting, literature, dance and music.
  • Musicians JS Bach, Handel, Vivaldi
  • Opera appeared during this period
  • Art Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt
  • Church reformation Catholic and Protestant

Baroque style Santiago de Compostela Spain
Baroque style St Pauls Cathedral London England