Thursday, September 16, 2010

Architect Dino Marcantonio on the Bema

Yale architect, Dino Marcantonio, continues his series on the parts of the church building with a consideration of the bema:

The term Bema has several different meanings. The word is most commonly a synonym for the Sanctuary, especially in the East. However, it can also refer to:

1. The raised, gated area which projects from the Sanctuary into the nave called the schola cantorum
2. A separate raised platform for clergy which, in antiquity--particularly in Syria--was located in the middle of the nave and completely separated from the Sanctuary (like the bema of a synagogue, or a dislocated schola cantorum)
3. The Ambo
4. The Pulpit (more rarely)

All these meanings stem from the original definition of the Greek word Bema (βήμα): a raised platform, or tribune, for a speaker or, more importantly, for the official seat of a judge.

In this passage from St. Germanus, he is using the term to mean the Sanctuary, the whole raised area reserved for clergy, with a particular emphasis on the area which contains the bishop's throne at the back of the apse. He states:

"The bema is a concave place, a throne on which Christ, the king of all, presides with His apostles, as He says to them: 'You shall sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel' (Mt 19:28). It points to the second coming, when he will come sitting on the throne of glory to judge the world, as the prophet says: 'Thrones were set for judgment over the house of David' (Ps 121:5)"

The apse of the cathedral in Torcello, near Venice.
Note the prominent cathedra and surrounding amphitheater,
or synthronon, for the officiating bishop and his assistants.
Above, Christ is enthroned in the arms of the Blessed Virgin,
His Apostles arrayed like supreme court justices to either side.

Read the rest of the article on Dina Marcantonio's website.

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