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Worshipand its Architectural Setting 3. The Church after Constantine
The conversion of Constantine was the most significant event in church history since the resurrection of Christ. • After a war with his rivals, in 312 Constantine – whose mother was a Christian – became Roman Emperor in in the West. • His Edict of Toleration in 313 made Christianity a legal religion in the Roman Empire. • His favor shown to Christianity gave the Church and its bishops a public status they had never known before.
Though Constantine was not baptized until near death he considered himself “a Christian” after 312. • After 312, Constantine provided generous endowments to the churches from the imperial treasury, instructing bishops to ask his officials for more money if what he had given was not enough. • As his reign went on, Constantine became actively involved in Christian controversies, to call bishops his “brothers,” build magnificent churches, and emphasize his personal devotion to the God of the Christians . Beginning around 326 Constantine erected a great basilica over the burial place of Peter, on the Vatican Hill outside of Rome.
After Constantine’s conversion, large buildings for Christian worship could be freely built. But what should they look like? Pagan temples were designed to house the statue of a deity and secret rooms, not accommodate meet-ings of worshipers. Sacrifices and public rites were offered outside. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was the largest in the Mediterranean world. There was a great outdoor sacrificial altar to the right, in this reconstructed view.
The Roman basilica offered an excellent model for church buildings. Basilicas were common in Greco-Roman cities. They were both large and small, used for law courts, markets, and many other occasions that required bringing a group of people together. apse This is a cut-away drawing of a typical small basilica. Often the apse was on the same level as the main area, with no stairs.
Some of Constantine’s basilicas were colossal, secular buildings. • This is the Basilica begun by Maxentius and finished by Constantine in 312 in the Forum in Rome. The interior vault was 127 feet high. It was the largest building in the Forum – and it was built to glorify Constantine. • In the apse was a colossal statue of Constantine on a throne, the famous massive head of which (right) is in the courtyard of the Musei Capitolini. The entrance of typical secular basilicas was in the middle of the long side. Later Christian basilicas would usually have their entrance at the narrow end opposite the apse.
Basilica-style churches could also be either small or very large. Excavated and restored smaller 4th c. Basilica of San Clemente, now underneath the larger 11th c. church. The very large mid-5th c. basilica of Sta. Sabina in Rome, an example of the size to which Christian basilicas might grow – some in the 4th c.
Typical interior arrangements of a simple 4th c. Christian basilica were as follows: Men and women were separated from one another, and the older men and older women separated from the younger. The bishop and other clergy were separated from the lay people. Processions were very important, and the long nave was primarily a space for processions, with the people standing on either side. As a rule, there were curtains between the pillars in the arcades.
This layout of Santa Sabina shows how the simple plan elaborated Apsewith bishop’s throne and synthronon (tiered bench) for presbyters Altar under a baldachino or canopy Schola cantorumor solea (railed area) for singers and other clergy, inside railing, and up a step Ambo(two in this church, though usually only one) for reading Scripture and preaching. Nave for laity, women and men on opposite sides.
The basilica was not the fundamental unit of Christian liturgy; the city was. The powerful need to express the unity of the Church moved Christians to structure their worship life around the figure of the bishop and the community of the city. Just as the empire was one but divided into cities each with its local leaders, so too was Christianity one, but divided into cities each with its local leader, the bishop. One of the first cities to develop a fully urban liturgy was Jerusalem. St. Cyril (313-386) presided over the Christian community in the Holy City and led in the formation of its liturgy, described by the Spanish pilgrim, Egira.
Constantine changed the relative importance of cities in the Mediterranean world by establishing “his” city: Constantinople, “New Rome.” The ancient Greek city of Byzantium was renamed Constantinopolis in 326. It became Constantine’s capital city. This is a computer-generated model of what the city looked like in the middle ages, but almost all of the ancient buildings were still standing then.
Christianity was an urban religion. Throughout the 4th c. the majority of people in the Roman Empire were still “pagans.” Paganus was a Latin word meaning “country fellow.” The Mediterranean world was full of very ancient cities, temples, and shrines. The pagan culture of thousands of years was not going to be transformed overnight, but it was going to be transformed. The progress of Christianization was faster in the eastern part of the empire than in the west.
After the dedication of Constantinople as New Rome in 330, an intentionally Christian city, these were the great cities of the Empire: Rome – city of SS. Peter and Paul, the ancient imperial capital Alexandria – city of St. Mark, second largest city Antioch – also associated with SS. Peter and Paul Jerusalem – the holiest city, site of Jesus’ death and resurrection Constantinople – the new, Christian “Rome” Soon, of course, there was rivalry for status among their bishops.
“For Christians, sacred liturgy was the public service owed to God and rendered by the Church on behalf of itself and of the world. At root this service was twofold. It consisted of thanksgiving and supplication: thanksgiving for a world created and redeemed through the Messiah and intercession through the same Messiah on behalf of a world not yet fully redeemed. “The most striking feature of late antique and medieval Christianity was the public nature of its liturgy. When most of us think of liturgy today, we imagine the short, discreet, essentially congregational or parochial events that take place periodically within the confines of churches. Ancient and medieval Christian liturgy was an entirely different affair. From the fourth to the seventh century, Christian worship, like Christianity itself, became a fundamentally urban experience. “Bishops, their clergy, monks and nuns, the holy dead and all the noisy faithful transformed the cities of the Roman empire into powerful symbols of redeemed space and time. Christian liturgy took up many hours of every day, filled the city's largest meeting halls, spilled out into the city's streets, broke through the city's walls.” Michael G. Powell, Yale University
In the 4th c. monasticism became an increasingly important force in Christianity. The “Red Monastery,” Deir al-Ahmar, Egypt. 5th c. St. Anthony of Egypt (256-356) is called “the Father of the Monks.” He went into the desert to be a hermit in 285 and others gathered around him. He was the founder of the Christian communal ascetic movement. He was not the first Christian monk, but probably the most influential. The greatest numbers of monks (and nuns) in the 4th c. were in Egypt and Syria. Anthony
In addition to receiving imperial patronage and freedom to worship, there were other changes for Christians in the 4th century. The “cult of the martyrs” was already an impor-tant part of Christian life, just as the cult of dead heroes was in traditional pagan culture. Tombs and relics of those who had died rather than deny Christ had been venerated since the 2nd c. Now large shrine churches could be built in their honor. Sick and demonized individuals came seeking healing and deliverance. Christians began to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land to visit the sites mentioned in the Bible, particularly those associated with Jesus. Out of the liturgical practices of Holy Week in Jerusalem grew the Holy Week devotions that we know. Crypt Chapel of Pope Damasus in the Catacombs, late 4th c. , who encouraged devotion to the Roman martyrs.
By the end of the 4th c., many churches had been dedicated as shrines to the martyrs. The Church of Sant Agnese “outside-the-walls” was built near the child martyr’s grave (below), located on the same level in the surrounding catacombs. Worshipers descended into the church from the (then) street level.
The new shrine churches of the martyrs were serene places for healing, particularly of those “possessed.” “Along with beggars, the possessed were a recognized category around the shrine. They would be given their meals, were blessed once a day—and set to scrubbing the paving of the church. . . . [At the shrine] the demons in the demon-possessed are in the presence of ‘clean’ power. . . . “A great basilica, where the light of day was trapped in the shimmering apse and the translucent marble of the colonnades, where, as in the words of an inscription ‘darkness and chaos are fled away,’ stood in a rough world as a model of the untroubled order of the morning of God’s creation. It was the right place for disrupted integrity to be restored.” Peter Brown, Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity The Basilica of San Clemente
The great Church of St. Paul outside-the-Walls was built by Constantine over the site of Paul’s martyrdom and burial. Original cover for the shrine of St. Paul, with access holes. People would let down objects, such as vials of oil for anointing the sick, on cords so they might touch the tomb of the apostle – hoping for a miracle. The triumphal arch at the apse end of an imperial basilica was meant to honor the saint whose body rested beneath it with the same degree of honor given the Emperor. The arch focused worshipers’ attention on the saint’s tomb, below the altar.
The rotunda of the Anastasis Constantine’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre became the focus of Christian devotion for a thousand years. The Crusades in the Middle Ages were sent to liberate it from Muslim control. The Martyrium The rock of Calvary in the Triporticus. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was consecrated in 336. It included the site of Jesus’ tomb, covered by the dome of the Anastasis (Greek for “resurrection”) and the Triporticus colonnaded atrium around the rock of Calvary, plus a large basilica, called the Martyrium.
The Anastasis was a circular, domed shrine, a design similar to many pagan temples and mausoleums. • The rotunda of the Anastasis probably resembled the Church of Santa Costanza in Rome, built by Constantine at almost the same time. It is adjacent to the Church of Sant Agnese. • The church shown here was originally built as a mausoleum for Constantine’s daughters, Constantina and Helena. Constantina was later called a “saint,” though not officially.
The aedicula was a marble enclosure of the rock-cut tomb of Christ. Its destruction in 1009 by the “mad caliph,” Al-Hakim, led to the First Crusade. The heart of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was and is the tomb of Christ itself. The aedicula has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times after 1009. The latest rebuilding of it (shown here) was done in 1809-10, following a fire.
The Knights Templar built round churches for their order in 12th c. Europe, based on the shape of the Anastasis in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Above, Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Cambridge, England. Right, Temple Church, London, England.
The rock of Calvary is covered by silver and marble, but pilgrims may still touch it, beneath this altar.
A Spanish nun named Egeria made a pilgrimage ca. 381-384 to Biblical sites. She left us important information about the church and about worship at the end of the 4th century. Egeria visited many places that are mentioned in the Bible, but her descriptions of worship in Jerusalem, particularly during Holy Week are the most interesting for us.
Here is Egeria on daily worship in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: “At cockcrow the Anastasis is opened, monks, nuns and lay people entering, singing refrains to hymns, psalms and antiphons. As soon as dawn comesthey start the Morning Hymns, the bishop and his clergy joining them. The bishop first enters the cave of the sepulchre and inside it speaks the prayers for the catechumens and the faithful, then emerges to bless everyone. At midday another service with psalms and antiphons, the bishop joining them and again entering the cave of the Sepulchre, takes place. Another service takes place at three o'clock, a further one at four, the Lychnicon or Lucernare, at which the great glass lanterns and many candles at both the Anastasis and Golgotha are lit from a single light brought forth from within the Sepulchre. That ceremony goes back to Judaism's blessing of the candles by the women of the household on the Sabbath Eve. On Sunday these ceremonies are carried out more elaborately adding to them much censing, with the bishop reading the Gospel account of the Resurrection from within the screen of the cave to the Sepulchre and the presbyters preaching so that the people will continually be learning about the Bible and the love of God.”
4th c. worship in Jerusalem was sensuous and physical, more than cerebral. • Worshipers, who were not seated, but mobile in the church, crowded in to touch or even kiss holy objects and holy people. ‘The holy’ was a focus of spiritual power. • The faithful wanted to touch or kiss the Book of Gospels, or the Bishop’s hand. • The Bishop’s hand was laid on each worshiper individually in blessing at the end of every service – even if the same persons attended several services in a single day. They sought his personal touch after each service. • The Bishop, the Eucharist, the preacher – all were exposed to the full participation of the many-voiced Christian populace, who would also groan or weep at moving parts of the Passion Gospel or other readings of Scripture. • At Communion, Cyril of Jerusalem taught his people “to hallow their eyes and forehead by the touch of the Holy Body” before receiving, and to do the same with the wine from their lips after receiving the Cup.
Jerusalem was one of the first cities to develop a fully urban liturgy. Jerusalem possessed the historical sites of Jesus’ life and incorporated them into its liturgical life, as Egeria described. • Other cities were not as blessed with Christian sites. Nevertheless, they too developed full urban liturgies, just not as quickly as Jerusalem. The urban character of ancient Christian liturgies remained an important aspect of Christian worship throughout the Middle Ages. • One consequence of this urban character of Christian liturgy was a great variety of detail and structure in the liturgy. Even the bishops of great cities such as Rome borrowed from the those of other centers, such as Jerusalem or Constantinople. • Eventually, large liturgical families called rites developed. In the West some of the most important rites were the Roman, the Ambrosian (from the city of Milan), and the Gallican (from Gaul). • Ultimately, the Roman Rite supplanted all others in the Roman Catholic Church. Greater diversity continued among the Eastern Orthodox churches.