ARC 231: Early Christian architecture (Monday, Oct. 22 at 1 PM)

In 100 words or fewer, answer the following prompt:

  • We see in the materials related to this study that Christians of the fourth century (and onward) adopted the basilica to accommodate the formal and functional needs of their liturgy. How does that compare with their development of other building types? Write a short paragraph that explains how Early Christian builders selected and adopted other Roman precedents as the model for martyria or baptisteries. Provide at least one specific example.


  1. Reply
    Shawn Bandel October 20, 2018

    The adoption of the basilica for fourth century Christians was the perfect way to kick-start the early church. This building was chosen by early Christians due to the overall size, which could accommodate large services, the large government presence in the building also helped to assert their formality. The adoption of the basilica is different from the creation of the martyria and the baptisteries. These two structures were created after the early Christian church was already established, they were not just adopted structures at the time, but rather new building types that had a very specific function. This differs from the basilica because baptisteries and martyrias were created for specific functions, while the basilica was an adopted building type.

    • Reply
      Allyson Smith October 27, 2018

      Shawn –
      I agree with you when you mention how the adoption of the basilica for 4th century Christians was the perfect way to start the early church. It was a good choice due to is size and design for a large congregation to gather together as one and praise the Lord. The formal style helps show almost a form of professionalism as they also were to host a large government presence in the building. The use of the basilica was great during its time, but then new building types came in which were specifically for the christian faith.

      • Reply
        JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

        All true, but remember that the centralized buildings did have precedents in (pagan) Rome, in the shape/function of mausolea, which provide an interesting architectural translation–especially for baptism.

  2. Reply
    Robyn Lombard October 21, 2018

    In the early development of the baptistery, it took the form of a basilica. An altar was added as well as entrances on the opposite end and atriums by the entrance for congregants. This was then developed into a more circular orientation to emphasise the centre (where altars would be placed). This layout showed aspects of amphitheatres, a centre platform of focus surrounded by seating all around. The Baptistery of the Orthodox showcases this layout with its heptagon shape. One of the only influences gotten from pagan temples were the mosaics, representing the stories of its religion. This seen in the Baptistery of the Orthodox.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      I’d like to invite you to reconsider that–take another look at the form and function of baptisteries, basilicas, and amphitheatres. There are better comparisons to make.

  3. Reply
    Timothy Gordon October 21, 2018

    Since the Christians of the fourth century adopted the basilica to accommodate the formal and functional needs of their liturgy, the building built by the Christians had large resemblance to the previous basilicas. The buildings that took the most from the basilicas were the martyria. They took the main ideas of the basilicas for their own buildings because the basilica’s design allowed it to accommodate large crowds. Other buildings that took from previous Roman building were the Mausolea, which were based off of Roman Mausoleums.

    • Reply
      Dallas Colburn October 29, 2018

      The basilicas not inly allowed the Christians to accommodate for large crowds, but it also had connections to the peoples lives. The basilica was seen as a place governmental importance to the Romans. By taking on this building as the place of worship for the Christians they link the importance of the government to the importance of the Christian religion. With law now allowing Christians to worship, this symbol of taking on a govermental building as a place of worship affirms that the Christians are accepted by the government. The combination of the government’s approval and the use of a governmental building for worship links the importance of Christianity to that of the importance of the law.

    • Reply
      Joseph Soetermans October 29, 2018

      Tim, I will have to agree with you that the basilica was a very important building precedent for the Early Christian Church. They were designed for larger congregations with the expanding Christian population. I would challenge the stance of where Christians used Mausoleums. The closest example to a Roman Mausoleum I found in our documents was the Santa Costanza. It contained a circular plan around the altar. This may have been similar to the Mausoleums in which case the alter would have been a tomb. However, would there be another building precedent that could be found more often. For example, I noticed that the Christian catacombs had a lot in common with the Necropolis of the Etruscans. In addition, I believe some of the Early Christian churches had more in common with the Pantheon than the Mausoleums if we are taking size into consideration. Santa Costanza did also have an oculus similar to the Pantheon.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      Your collective comments on the basilicas are right on track. Take some care with the Etruscan comparison; there is a technical comparison here, but remember that the function is very different, in terms of what is being interred and how it’s honored afterwards, and the fact that Etruscans could be very overt about their practices, basically building cities of the dead.

  4. Reply
    Aiden Stevens October 22, 2018

    The baptistries created around the fourth century BCE were necessary to Christianity through the placement of high importance on baptism. The octagonal shape of the building is unprecedented because it meets a specific symbolic element, which is the representation of resurrection through the number eight. The roman baths could possibly be called a precedent for the baptism pool, but only in form because it functioned very specifically to the Christian faith. The Baptistry of the Orthodox in Ravenna (458) is one such baptistry. Its dome emerging from the octagonal form could be drawing from the Domus Aurea, Nero’s brief home, or Hadrian’s “pumpkin domes”.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      Keep looking–a good precedent has a functional, and not just a formal, connection.

  5. Reply
    peter Grosshans October 22, 2018

    The Roman precedent the Pantheon was originally dedicated to the gods, but was later converted for Christian use. It resembles the floor plan of a martyria, specifically the Tompietto. The Pantheon includes a centrally planned section that has multiple niches, which is capped by a dome (large rotunda). In the Tompietto, this is also the case, in addition to it utilizing free-standing interior columns, however, more generously to create an ambulatory path. It also has an attached rectangular section, which in Christian buildings is called the narthex, but for pagan temples was the portico.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      You’re making a formal comparison; what also offers functional considerations? The Pantheon falls flat there.

  6. Reply
    Koby Smith October 22, 2018

    The Martyria was adapted for the burial sites of highly recognized saints as well as to be used for Christians in general even if they didn’t hold high status. The function stayed much the same but we see such at Old Saint Peters which adapted its aisles for spaces for burial. This moved away from the catacombs and gave higher importance and recognition for burial ceremonies. They would also double for a space for the church to worship due to its large open nave.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      The apse of Old St. Peter’s is a good example of the adaptation of the full-round martyrium to a a new use & plugged into a basilica, while maintaining the basilica’s framing apse function.

  7. Reply
    Jonathan Hiller October 22, 2018

    Because Christianity was legalized in Rome, its community became predominantly roman. This means that when they looked for a way to create their churches they looked for the familiar. Basilicas were used by the magistrates and had an emphasis in honoring them. Christians looked for eh same when it came to their God so they adopted the form. Like most societies that adopt architecture from another, they started giving it their own identity and adding things like concepts that had symbolic meaning to them, but they still used many roman techniques for building, like Domes and arches. Fr example. the Hagia Sophia That uses many different roman techniques but also has its Christian touch.

  8. Reply
    Kiersten Laansma October 22, 2018

    Early Christian builders adopted Roman precedents to model their new structures, in hopes of carrying over the meanings already associated with structures such as basilicas and mausoleums. Although the functions were altered, the spaces themselves have similar structures. Mausoleums were used as the Roman precedent for baptisteries, using the same dome structure, with frescoes depicting stories on the dome and in the apses.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018


  9. Reply
    Matthew Thompson October 22, 2018

    The use of Basilicas in early Christian architecture is compared to their development of other building types for they used the building type and further advancing the building type and added frescoes and mosaics that reflects the story of the bible or something biblical and added a transept as well as an ambo. Yet other Roman precedents helped influence Christian architecture such as the Martyria or Baptisteries such as the triclia, hall like room, in cemeteries and grave sites.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      Tell me more about the relationship between martyria and baptisteries.

  10. Reply
    Otiniano-Ponti, Luciano October 22, 2018

    Christian’s building types have been done through the design of te basilica. I think it relates a lot to the stupa to pagoda situation where the basilicas would be the stupas and the churches should be the pagodas. One is taken out from the other in both situations. The Martyria Architecture reminds a lot of the Pantheon where there’s an oculus right in the center and the dome shape is the main structure component. It’s all centered through true dome vault in each structure.

    • Reply
      Rachel Norgren October 25, 2018

      I think these are all good points that you have made Luciano. I especially like the comparison you made about how the basilica transformed into the early churches just as the stupa evolved into the pagoda. Also worth noting is that the design of the basilica was used for early churches because of the building types’ prestigious status as well as it’s grand size. It was necessary for early churches to be able to accommodate large numbers of people, and the basilica as a church was able to do this.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      Interesting comparison, except that the formal quality of basilica/basilica does not change nearly as we see with stupa/pagoda, since there is no change in technical preferences.
      The Pantheon may be round, but does it offer any functional comparison?

  11. Reply
    Caleb Jones October 22, 2018

    The Early Christian builders saw the value of Roman architecture and sought to benefit from it as much as possible. Martyria were tombs or places of Christian importance. The most obvious example would be Santa Costanza, which is Constantine’s burial tomb. Both of those structures are circular with a coffin or table as a centerpiece. There is then a circle of columns around the center to separate the interior and exterior layers visually, although not at all physically. This is quite similar to the evolution of Christian Churches and how they took notes from and even used actual Roman basilicas.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      (Constantine’s daughter)

  12. Reply
    Nate Madison October 22, 2018

    Christians based their design for baptistries on vaulted Roman buildings. The Baptistry of the Orthodox in Revenna is an octagonal brick structure with an eight-sided baptismal font situated at the center of the floorplan. Parallels can be seen between it and 8-sided roman buildings, including the Infamous Domus Aurea built by Nero. The “House of Gold” had a banquet hall that was octagonal, and featured one of the very first domed roofs. The equilateral layout of both buildings draws attention to the center, and the primary focus of the room (the dining table in “Domus Aurea and the baptismal font in Christian baptistries). Other precedents for baptistries may include any round or octagonal domed Roman structure, including the Pantheon and large caldarium.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      It’s not easy to imagine that 5th-century builders in Ravenna would know anything about a building demolished over 400 years earlier in Rome. Rather than look only at formal comparisons, look into the functional ones that were more likely to inspire the Early Christians.

  13. Reply
    Matthew Hamon October 22, 2018

    The baptistries seem to remind me of the baths in Rome because of their domed roofs and the Domus Aureus reminds me of it as well because of the dining hall which is an octagonal building with a domed roof. Martyria also remind me of the church we had to look at this week because of the circular building with the columns.

    • Reply
      Gregory Boyce October 29, 2018

      I agree with you, in the aspect that the baptistries are a reminder to the baths in Rome, specifically with domed roofs and the like. I would also ask which church we looked at last week that also reminded you of the baptistries?

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      Put yourself in the shoes of these first Early Christian builders. Why go pick a round building? Probably not b/c it looks cool. You’re trying to house a particular function, and look for something recognizable that does something like your new function.

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