Monday, February 14, 2011

Round Churches in the Roman Tradition

An excellent article by Fr Timothy Verdon entitled 'Basilica and Circle: The Tradition of the Great Churches of Rome' appeared in L'Osservatore Romano on 10 February, and was republished in Sandro Magister's blog. I was particularly struck by his reflections on the circular church. Below is an extract from his article, followed by photos of the church of Santa Constanza, which he highlights. The church is decorated with fascinating 4th-century mosaics which draw from pagan Roman iconography, but they are widely interpreted as paleo-Christian as well. At the very least, they remind us of the fluidity between pagan and Christian art in this early stage of the Church's artistic tradition.

For the Greco-Roman sensibility, in fact, the cylindrical-closed form suggested the mystery of death; precisely this configuration had been used in the 4th century in Jerusalem for the Constantinian structure of the "Anastasis," containing the empty tomb of Christ. The same form was then used by Constantine's daughter for her own mausoleum on the Via Nomentana, next to the ancient cemetery basilica of Saint Agnes.

Such circular structures have a particular symbolism. While the more common longitudinal basilicas imply a journey – from the entrance to the altar – the circular form, without beginning and without end, speaks of the infinite: arriving at its center connotes the end of the search, the arrival at the greatly desired port.

At the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, where one first passed through a longitudinal basilica to then – across a courtyard – enter the circular structure, the overall spatial experience was almost a metaphor of search and discovery: of the journey of faith and of the certitude with which God puts an end to man's searching, admitting him into the infinite light.

Read the rest of the article here.

Santa Constanza

Santa Constanza ceiling II

Wine Production II

Cluster of Capitals

O Clavis David

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