Sunday, July 29, 2007

Early Exceptions to the Architectural Rule and an Important note about the Altar

There is an interesting look at some of the less common forms of early Christian architecture at the Institute for Sacred Architecture (who publish the annual journal, Sacred Architecture) by Sandra Miesel.

Here is an excerpt. I've bolded for emphasis one line which I think relevant to those of us interested in the issue of ad orientem and how that relates to the high altar, even in exceptions like these.


By Sandra Miesel

In patristic times, when basilicas ruled the earth, a few alternative church plans dotted the landscape. We may regard these designs as Stephen Jay Gould did the Burgess Shale fossils: novel forms that left no progeny. Nevertheless, both the churches and the fossils are beautiful and worthy of contemplation.

The longitudinal basilican church borrowed the shape of Roman law courts, markets, athletic facilities, and other public buildings. Centrally planned churches, by contrast, derive from Roman mausolea, imperial audience chambers, banqueting halls, and even garden pavilions. Central plans could be cruciform, round, polygonal, or polyconched and further enriched with ambulatories, galleries, and niches of varied shape. Constantine, that energetic patron of Christian architecture, built both types of churches and even mixed forms, such as in the basilican Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem with its octagonal headpiece covering the birthplace of Christ. Regardless of design, the main altar normally stood in the east of the building, not the center.

To read the rest of the short article, go and visit the Institute for Sacred Architecture.

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