Early Christian

11 Feb
The Early Christian period saw the growth of Christianity as a rising religion. Starting with the underground Eastern mystery cult during the first three centuries AD.  People would meet secretly to practice Christianity; this is where the first images of Christ were being protrayed. In early Christianity,  God was protrayed as the Good Shepard and the watcher of all those who believed and worshiped. Initially Jesus was represented indirectly by symbols such as the Ichthys (fish),peacock , Lamb of God, or an anchor (the or Chi-Rho was a later development). Later personified symbols were used, including Jonah, whose three days in the belly of the whale pre-figured the interval between Christ’s death and Resurrection, Daniel in the lion’s den. From this underground work, Christianity grew and was established as the state religion of the Empire under the successors of Constantine.

Christ the Good Shepherd, Galla Placida

Good Shepher, In the catacombs


The invention of the Christian church was one of the most brilliant solutions in architectural history. This was achieved by a process of assimilating and rejecting various precedents, such as the Greek temple, the Roman public building, the private Roman house, and the synagogue. Early Christian Architecture: basilical church developed from Roman secular basilica. The basilical plan was then modified for special requirements; congregation and clergy segregated in nave and aisles vs. transept and apse. Different variants in East and West.

Basilican Plan

1) Propylaeum- the entrance building of a sacred precinct, whether church or imperial palace.

2) Atrium- in early Christian, Byzantine, and medieval architecture, the forecourt of a church; as a rule enveloped by four colonnaded porticoes.

3) Narthex- the entrance hall or porch proceding the nave of a church.

4) Nave- the great central space in a church. In longitudinal churches, it extends from the entrance to the apse (or only to the crossing if the church has one) and is usually flanked by side aisles.

5) Side Aisle- one of the corridors running parallel to the nave of a church and separated from it by an arcade or colonnade.

6) Crossing- the area in a church where the transept and the nave intersect.

7) Transept- in a cruciform church, the whole arm set at right angles to the nave. Note that the transept appears infrequently in Early Christian churches. Old St. Peter’s is one of the few example of a basilica with a transept from this period. The transept would not become a standard component of the Christian church until the Carolingian period.

8) Apse- a recess, sometimes rectangular but usually semicircular, in the wall at the end of a Roman basilica or Christian church. The apse in the Roman basilica frequently contained an image of the Emperor and was where the magistrate dispensed laws. In the Early Christian basilica, the apses contained the “cathedra” or throne of the bishop and the altar.

9) Nave elevation- term which refers to the division of the nave wall into various levels. In the Early Christian basilica the nave elevation usually is composed of a nave colonnade or arcade and clerestory.

10) Clerestory- a clear story, i.e. a row of windows in the upper part of a wall. In churches, the clerestory windows above the roofs of the side aisles permit direct illumination of the nave

In Rome, classical marble walls, and emphasis on massive structures, gradually  was replaced by broad, flat surfaces, evenly lighted; plain brick exteriors; mosaic bands of interiors. Long planes with little articulation, either horizontal or vertical.

                                                                                        Bethleheme, Church of Nativity

                                                                                  Ravena, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

                                                                                    Galla Placidia, Good Shepherd Mosaic

                                                                            Rome, San Lorenzo, Triumphal Arch Mosaics


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