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which served as a model for the standard formula of the Christian church. bastard child of a very noble fam­ ily. But first. and to comprehend the spatial effect. the Early Christian church building is just a poorly gifted. and hence between form and meaning. Scholars tend to stress the continuities with Ancient Roman architecture and the long history of the basilica type. in which not just the forms as such.the Early Christian church was a highly innovative creation. This paper will attempt to outline a perspective on ritual and space regard­ ing the Early Christian atrium by confronting two cases of early church atria: one known from a literary source. The classicists among them do not fail to stress that such continuity did not prevent a dramatic loss of understanding of the classical canon. ‘Caratteri e contenuti della nuova architettura dell’età costantiniana’. the other from its archaeological reconstruction. pp. 234-4330 .not that of out­ dated apologetic . From this point of view. but it suffers from a chronic inclination to overlook the substantial renewal that took place both in Late Antique architecture in general and in Early Christian church building in particular. are included. presumes a readiness to abandon the pure analysis of isolated elements. There may be something in this perception that is at least methodically fruit­ ful. Rivista d i Archeologia Cristiana 80 (2004). but the dynamics between form and function. 233-76.The Church Atrium as a Ritual Space: The Cathedral o f Tyre a n d St Peter’ s in Rome SIBLE DE BLAAUW The predominant view of Early Christian church building in modern scholarship is that it introduced hardly anything new. but its approach will contain elements that continue to be relevant during the Middle Ages and even beyond. This insight. a few introductory remarks are needed on the formal genesis and the definition of the atrium in Early Christian architecture. 1 A useful recent overview of the historiography is F. at pp. the church atrium is one of the most intriguing elements of Early Christian architecture (Plate 4). Guidobaldi. architecturally the result of a more or less skilful cut-and-paste operation on the vast repertoire of the Classical tradition. The discussion will focus on Late Antiquity. however. Seen from a certain perspective .1 From this point of view.

Vienne. It could designate an entire palace. Delvoye. 1978). 281-330 and ibid. ‘Cours et atriums paléochrétiens. with very large colum ned atria). is decorated . Steinby. 31 3 4 5 . Seyfarth. ed. in A vantnefs & espaces d ’ acceuil d a n s l ’ église entre le N e e leXIIe siècle: Actes d u colloque internatio n a l d u CNRS 1999. ’.. S. the horse of Trajan. 1993-2000) vol. 505-58. est exomatu m . (Leipzig. in Reallexikon fü r A n tik e u n d Christentum 22 (2008). I. Thesaurus L inguae Latinae. Thesaurus L inguae Latinae. C. pp. atriis tam en columnatis amplissimis .. 6.. Atrium Vestae) or buildings used for business such as auc­ tions.3 It was..London. that it is horizontally an enclosed space. second. Essentially. but vertically open to the sky and.THE CHURCH ATRIUM AS A RITUAL SPACE 1. Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana 47 (1971). cols 1101-03. (Rome. ibid.. W. in R eallexikon z u r byzantinischen Kunst vol. Lyon. 132-42. p p . that it is related to the entrance of a church and itself directly accessible from the street. Millón and L. Retour sur les prototypes rom ains’. did the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus use atrium more than once to indicate a monumental piazza or court. ed. Stapleford. ‘L’atrium dans les églises paléochrétiennes d ’occident’. Grenoble. 2 vols. C. ‘Studies in Constantinian Church Architecture’. F orm s a n d F u n ction s In scholarly convention. in particular with a central statue or lined with columns. locatum in atrii m edio.. H. I (1966). In classical Roman architecture the name atrium was chiefly applied to the central space of a private house.. for the examples in ancient Rome see Lex­ icon topographicum U rbisRom ae. J. 10. cols 227-393.. A. R. pp. where the im pluvium or water basin could collect the rain water from the sur­ rounding roofs. The most widespread use of the Latin word atrium in antiquity was indeed connected to domestic architecture. ‘K ultgebaude’. The denomina­ tion atrium is already in use in the earliest sources relating to Christian churches.5 Most variants of the Roman house atrium were open to the sky in the cen­ tre. Spain Alexander. Sapin (Paris. 22. II. in Latin as well as in Greek variants. 15: [Forum o f Traianus] Traiani equum . 2002). at 353-9. in Actes d u X le Congrès In ternational dArchéologie Chrétienne. (Temple o f Serapis . but not exclusively for a court or piazza. 49 (1973). Ammianus Marcellinus.. 1989) vol. pp. for example Vitruvius. vol.. 2-19. the notion church atrium usually means an open court in front of a church. the so-called domus.. ‘Constantinian Politics and the Atrium Church’. 12: [Alexandria] ‘Serapeum . editus auctoritate et consilio Academiarum quinqué Germanicarum (Leipzig. Some types had columns to support these roofs. E. ed. 16. ed. A trium ’. Picard. pp. (Vatican City. furthermore. Fensterbusch (Darmstadt. 33^44 (catalogue out­ dated on several points). the area called the atrium was roofed over but for a limited rectangular opening in the 2 C. S. De architectura. R erum gestarum libri q u i supersunt... 282-4. Guyon.. w hich stands in the middle of the atrium).’ (. 1978). cols 1101-04. in use for features of Roman public or sacred architecture. temple complex or monumental area (Atrium Libertatis. 16. 1900). cols 42240. 6 vols. 3 vols. de Blaauw. 13-23.. Term s.. in Art a n d architecture in the service o f politics. 5. J--C. Genève et Aoste (21-28 septembre 1986). first. I. 1987).2 Its essential features are. M. ed. 2-3. as we will see.. Nochlin (Cambridge MA ..4 Only in late antiquity.

Wallace-Hadrill. The house atrium might therefore be quite a gloomy place. The peristyle court then became a notable feature of Roman palace and villa architecture in the imperial age and grew ever more popular in house design as well. 276-8 (palaces.9A rare example of a Late Antique palace with a clear-cut axial sequence.6 Notwithstanding the terminology. The court was often in the centre of the house. a court surrounded by open colonnades. the church atrium has little in common with either the space called the atrium in an Italic domus or the average domestic peristyle. Wallace-Hadrill. 55-6. But as far as its disposition in the building context is concerned. I. ed. ‘Überlegungen zur Vorgeschichte der frühchristlichen Basilica’. 32 . 240-2 (domus. 219-40.vestibule . which served the main domestic functions. Romuliana (Gamzigrad).main hall. For examples. con­ necting a series of surrounding rooms. 277-8 (with uncertainties). D om us tardoantica. Lorenz. Romuliana 1-2). Baldini lippolis. 234— 36. pp. an area of transition between outside and inside. 2001). in D om estic Space in the R om an World: P om peii a n d B eyond . pp. ‘Palace IF. considering its layout within the wider complex. the so-called compluvium. ‘Rethinking the Roman Atrium H ouse’. street . The church atrium. R. The romanised domestic peristyle was also usu­ ally situated in the heart of the house. 113-32. T. pp. hence as a destination room for visitors and occupants. The Roman house atrium functioned as a reception hall. but there. Boreas 23/24 (2000/2001).. A tendency towards this particular function has been noticed in Late Antique villa complexes. where it gave light. the Hel­ lenistic housing type had such an unroofed courtyard in its centre. In domestic building. Ostia 12-13). dated betw een AD 300 and 450.8 The lexicological correspondence between the forecourt of a church and the central courtyard of an atrium house can only refer to its rough form. the church atrium had closer analogies to the peristylium . as against the relatively dark atrium. Jo u rn a l o f R om an Archaeology Supplem ent 22 (Portsm outh RI. which might be colonnaded. the axial relationship between the colonnaded court and one principal room is more ambiguous than in churches. La dom us tardoantica: Form e e rappresentazioni dello spazio dom estico nelle città del m editerraneo (Imola. at 236. seems to date from the period when church building was already developing (Plate 5) 1 0 6 8 9 1 0 A. was not a connecting hub between various equivalent rooms.7It has been observed that the ultimate suc­ cess of the peristyle in ancient house building was due to its brightness and attrac­ tiveness. In both instances there is a courtyard of rectangular shape. pp. ibid. Laurence and A. Wallace-Hadrill. uncovered in the centre and surrounded by roofed porticoes on all sides.atrium . whether or not with a covered portico around its edges. Baldini Lippolis. ‘Rethinking the Roman Atrium H ouse’. a feature very much associated with public architecture. air and access to a vari­ ety of room functions on all its sides. nor can it have been a place of destination.SIBLE DE BLAAUW centre. 1997). It was clearly an arrangement to allow entry.

1 4 The term referring to the four surround­ ing porticoes has a Greek equivalent too. 340. Formally. the main cultic services did not take place in the temple cella. (Paris. 33 1 3 1 4 1 5 . but a unique axial ori­ entation towards one principal building was rare. The decisive terms for the church atrium appear already in the course of the fourth century. 4 vols. ‘Constantinian politics’. it is worth noting that a colonnaded court was rarely connected exclusively to the building type that was so decisive for the gen­ esis of the Christian church building: the forum basilica. This does not rule out the reception of a surrounding courtyard into Constantinian church building. 156 n. In fact. Vincent and F. is said to have donated an atrium cum quadriporticum . 3. on the regular church atrium.1 2The court was often an area of passage between various adjacent build­ ings of equal importance.1 3The classical term atrium and the (probably) new creation quadriporticus are mentioned in combination in an inscription found in Porto. but again. A short observation on the question is in H. however. XIV. It is important to recall that in temple complexes. 1. d ’ archéologie et d ’ histoire. which preceded the main building on a longitudinal axis. 17-18. but in the court outside. vol.1 1Spa­ cious piazzas. (Rome. II. Finally. as for example at the church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople o r the Golden Octagon in Antioch. were typical for representa­ tive complexes in general. the disposition is quite different. Laodikea c. which was sometimes used for church forecourts as well. Abel Jérusalem : Recherches de topographie .THE CHURCH ATRIUM AS A RITUAL SPACE In form as well as in function the church atrium resembled most closely the public peristyles surrounding temples. these temple courtyards were also called atria. 1914-26) vol. 396. IV. see M. Sometimes. It is not certain whether the widespread Latin word atrium was called into being from a free association with the house atrium. such as the imperial forums in Rome. the results of the process were in many respects sur­ 1 1 1 2 Thesaurus Linguae Latinae gives very few instances. p. there is an obvious relationship to the church atrium. Guarducci. p. Epigrafia G reca . it might be not mere coincidence. but atrium does not seem to have been the common term. From these summary observations. pp. surrounded by colonnaded porticoes. no. n. consilio et auctoritate Academiae Litterarum Regiae Borussicae editum (Berlin 1862-).1 Marcellinus seems to be the first pagan author using atrium for a monumental public piazza or court (see above). or was rather derived from the Greek word aithrion (area under the open sky). 4 vols. This discussion will concentrate. that Ammianus tury (tetrastôon) . 1967-78) vol. 1941. See also Stapleford. in which columns were also involved. An unknown founder from the fourth or fifth century' in this seaport of Rome. the reception of forms. since he was writing at a time when the first monumental church atria already existed and were named by that term. such as a temple and a basilica. functions and nomenclature in the church atrium can be seen to have been a process of consid­ erable complexity. already in the first half of the fourth cen­ 5 Hence. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum .

Krautheimer et a l. Indeed. translated with a com m entary by R. ‘Le quadriportique de Saint-Pierre-du-Vatican’. Duchesne. outside the doors o f St Peter’s h e w idened the steps. Texte.-C. introduction et com m entaire. 3 vols (Paris. at different places all over the empire. its total size equalled that of the entire nave of the basilica. 2. He completely enclosed the actual atrium. imperial church foundations included a monumental colonnaded quadrangle in front of the basilica’s façade. but corresponds astonish­ ingly closely to the concept of the imperial church projects. dating from the early years of Constantine’s reign. the building of monumental churches broke out along similar lines and according to common concepts. grados vero ante fores basilicae beati Pétri ampliavit et alios grados sub tigno dextra levaque construxit. pp. 851-90. M étrages de l ’ École fra n ç a ise de Rom e . ed. 47: ‘At St Peter’s fountain with the square colonnade he provided marble adornments. this material reconstruction can also be compared with a systematic description. Written sources and inscriptions suggest that the atrium complex was not yet finished in the fourth century. The E vid en ce o f O ld St P e te r's The artificial platform on which the basilica on the location of Peter’s tomb was built. Picard. but that of Old St Peter’s in Rome can be fairly well recon­ structed. V. and palms. The miracle of the genesis of the church basilica is that immediately after Constantine’s act of tolerance regarding the Christian church in 313.7. J. (Vatican City . Vogel (Paris.SIBLE DE BLAAUW prising. the cathedral of Tyros (Tyre).) [henceforth CBCR] 5 vols. including mosaic. 1957): ‘Ad cantharum beati Petri cum quadriporticum ex opere marmoribus omavit et ex musivo agnos et cruces et palmas omavit. he 34 1 7 . 267-8 and Liber Pontificalis [henceforth LP]. 2000). The Early Chris­ tian Basilicas o f Rom e (IV-IX Cent.A ntiquité 86 (1974). dedicated probably in 315. Additions et corrections.1 6 It was slightly elongated in shape. was 240 metres in length. A vast flight of stairs on the east side compensated for the difference of level between the ground outside and the platform. V. L. Item episcopia in eodem loco dextra levaque fecit. Corpus B asilicarum C hristianarum Romae. Davis. Le Liber Pontificalis. ed. CBCR. crosses. p.’ Translation (with som e debatable points) in The B ook o f Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis) : the A n cien t Biographies o f the First Ninety R om an Bishops to AD 715. Ipsum vero atrium om nem conpaginavit. . 1937-77). which was not the product of an imperial commission. vol. In Rome and Palestine as in Con­ stantinople.1 7 The 1 6 R. In a passage in his Ecclesiastical History. pp. lambs. While already important enough on its own. 1886-92). Nothing of these earliest atrium lay­ outs has been preserved. 279. 53 c. It seems that the Constantinian fabric was given the finishing touches in a campaign commissioned by Pope Symmachus (498-514). 277. Eusebius of Cae­ sarea celebrates a church.New York. and corresponded exactly in width to the outer walls of the basilica. C. 261-71. This means that the atrium must have been con­ ceived as an inherent part of the original Constantinian project (Plate 6). Item sub grados in atrio alium cantharum foris in cam po posuit et usum necessitatis hum anae fecit.Rome . shortly after AD 500. 2nd edn (Liverpool.

61-88. Brandenburg. J. given by the sen­ ator Pammachius in memory of his deceased wife Paula in 396. trans. 37-45 (with an introduction on the occasion. Boreas 26 (2003). All this confirms the successful development of the church atrium already in the course of the fourth century. Christian architecture. but with the obvious intention of depicting it as a symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem. 75: ‘He paved the u p p er atrium of St Peter’s. a perfectly adequate name. V. built o th er steps under the awning on right and left. the landing in front of the gates. 35 1 8 1 9 20 21 . 10.’ Translation.. in his description of a huge funeral banquet. the steps leading to the level of the atrium. by means of which it has come down to us. H istoria ecclesiastica. even if we accept that St Peter’s was not exactly an average church. Peter in Rom ’. and the bluish-green gleaming façade of the basilica. a central foun­ tain called the cantharus under a bronze baldachin supported by four marble columns. the main features of St Peter’s atrium are already referred to earlier by Paulinus of Nola. an entrance hall or vestibulum. ‘Prudentius über den colym hus bei St.. Gnilka. It had become a characteristic and obviously eye-catching feature of a Christian basilica.1). named campus. and.11-13 quoted in CBCR.’ LP. Paulinus mentions the open square in front of the complex. 4. the courtyard ox atrium.2 1 His panegyric encompasses a rather detailed description of the building. but also use the term atrium In fact. marble paving and mosaic decorations including lambs. vol. Oulton. See H.’ Paulinus Nolanus.THE CHURCH ATRIUM AS A RITUAL SPACE description evokes precious architecture. 55-72 and C. in the square colonnade in front of the church. The texts call it a quadriporticus. from The B ook o f Pontiffs. Loeb Classical Library. with colonnaded porticoes. Eusebius incorporated the full text into his Ecclesiastical History. 265 (Cambridge MA/London. a cen­ tury later. The bishop of Caesarea was invited by his fellow bishop. Peter’. in the very first years of public. the atrium and the square in front were filled with crowds. ed. 10 3. 4. pp. 173. ‘Das Baptisterium und der Brunnen des Atriums von Alt-St. Epístola 13. 1932). p. No. This event must have taken place in 315 at the lat­ est. Paulinus of the city of Tyre to pronounce a solemn address on the occasion of the dedication of his new cathedral. for example. p. ibid. E u seb iu s' V ision o f th e A triu m in Tyre It is striking to recognize all these elements in the literary description by Eusebius of the cathedral in Tyre on the Phoenician coast.2 0 The impression of architectural splendour is not inferior to that of Symmachus’ patronage.1 9 So many poor people were invited that the entire church. magnis marmoribus stravit. and palms. 3. E. and h e built a convenience for people to use when need ed . Eusebius. Davis. 1: ‘Hie atrium beati Petri apostoli superiore. and there he also built episcopal room s on the right and left. ibid. L. He also set up by the steps to th e atrium another fountain outside in the open. LP 80 c. 2-10. Eusebius: The Ecclesiastical History Books VI-X. Zeitschrift f ü r Papyrologie u n d Epigraphik 152 (2005). qui est ante ecclesiam in quadriporticum. with marble slabs. crosses. of course not for the sake of architectural clarity.

colonnades: this space is adorned all around with four porticoes (stoai) . with a surrounding wall. it supplies at once adornm ent and splendour to the whole. functioning as ‘first entrances’: 1. Right opposite the tem ple are the fountains with copious streams of flowing water. Court. There are three gates. Vigiliae Christianae 43 (1989). as described in the book of Ezekiel in the Septuagint. Wilkinson. fencing the space into a quadrangular shape. Court. th e intercolumniations are filled with w ooden barriers of lattice-work of convenient height (39). 226-47. To anybody well versed in the Holy Scriptures .it is obvious that these words contain numerous references to the Temple of Jerusalem. with additional information from the Jewish his­ torian Flavius Josephus. Court. ‘Christian Rhetoric in Eusebius’ Panegyric at Tyre’. it invites people to expe­ rience the beauty of the building as a prom ise for th e soul (38). thus providing the space with air and sunlight (39). Smith. John Wilkinson has brought this biblical rhetoric to light. 2. without the use of a proper terminus technicus.SIBLE DE BLAAUW according to the best neoplatonic procedures. as it bears witness to the fact that the Christian attitude towards sacred space was changing rapidly in the first years of public church building. raised aloft. which also receive the rays of the sun. supplying cleansing to those who are going further into the sacred precincts (40).2 2The atrium receives ample atten­ tion in this context.2 3 This is remarkable enough. The follow­ ing elements regarding its form and function can thus be discerned (what follows is an interpretative paraphrase with reference to the paragraphs of Historia eccle­ siastica book 10. allusions and variants. East Gate: a great porch (própylon ). chapter 4): Enclosure: the outer enclosure is strong. fountain: in this open space the ‘symbols of sacred purifications’ have been placed. it is visible from afar and provides an am ple prospect of that which is within to those standing outside. Court: a large space betw een the first entrances and the temple: persons that pass inside the gates are not perm itted to go further with unhallowed and unwashed feet to the holy places within (39). function: this space is the first stopping-place for those who enter. Court. a ‘most secure defence’ (37). it is directed towards the rays o f the rising sun. noting direct quotations. Entrance hall of the church: the innerm ost portico with wide openings accom m odates the entrance to the temple. This contrasted with 22 23 C.the percentage may have been high in Eusebius’ audience at the dedication . and is a suitable place of sojourn for those still in need of their first instructions (in th e faith) (40). 3. skylit: in the midst of the colonnades is an open space w here one can see the sky. 553-61. 36 . The central doorway is taller and larger than the flanking two and is plated with bronze and adorned with reliefs (41). strangers to the faith included. J. ‘Paulinus’ Temple at Tyre' Ja h rb u c h d er Österreichischen B yzantinistik 32 (1982).

Herodian version of the Temple. in which inner-Jewish criticism of the temple also resonated. was built in other places of the Empire. vol. ‘Paulinus’ Temple at Tyre’.365. Wikgren. immediate visual knowledge of the pagan Roman temples with their courts. where a sophisticated theological concept like that of Eusebius. or from a theological point of view. 15Josephus. mentioned emphatically by Eusebius. nos.London. Indeed. 1964). 186.433. 529. 5553T . F. Loeb Classical Library. P. Eusebius does what he can to depict the cathedral of Tyre as a spir­ itual successor of the Temple of Jerusalem. For the exclusion of the non-initiated. ed. the fountain. Josephus. Deichmann.2 3Hence the model was highly theoretical and a-visual. porticoes and squares was abundantly available.326. Jewish Antiquities. which he calls naos (a temple). One of the questions arising. p. the porch and doors to the inner sanctuary are all inspired by Ezekiel’s vision. and the lost temple of the Israelites. 2 4 25 26 See for example. reprinted in idem . Wll. 1982). Although Wilkinson is inclined to think they did. is whether the architects designed these first monumental churches with the con­ scious intention of imitating the Temple of Jerusalem. Kunst u n d Geschichte (Wiesbaden. P.281. 417. Konstantinopel. nor architects could have known the Jerusalem Temple other than from the ambigu­ ous Old Testament texts or perhaps from Flavius Josephus’ descriptions of the lat­ est. W. Conversely. p. N aher Osten. Eusebius wants to stress the continuity between the church.456 (Cam­ bridge MA . “ Vom Tempel zur Kirche’. Corby Finney. when we realize that a similar atrium lay-out. and with regard to the atrium in particular. it is easy to imagine that the atrium in Tyre could have existed without the spiritual model of Jerusalem. either from a functional.2 4 Obviously. H a rva rd Theological Review 81 (1988). the court. there is a parallel in Josephus’ Temple descrip­ tion. connected to churches. Implicitly. Klauser (Bonn. Ravenna. Of course. 242. which mentions a barrier to exclude the Gentiles.410. the east gate.26 On the other hand. in Mullus. The more so. ‘Early Christian Architecture: The Beginnings'. It was simply part of the game. he accepts the sacred character of a structure built by human hands. 203. ‘ J ewish Antiquities’. something that was not yet a widely accepted idea in Christian theology. there is reason to be sceptical. Yet. BooksXV-XVII. R. Neither patrons. These could never have functioned as a direct model. Festschrift Th. is without a precedent in the Tem­ ple literature. p. Antiquities 15. something difficult to deal with for a builder. was not quite so loudly pronounced. 319-39. one may suspect that the visual preponderance of the monumental temple precincts was inescapable even for the architects of churches. this means that his rhetorical descriptions of the enclosure.210. inJosephus in Ten Vol­ um es. As far as the atrium is concerned.THE CHURCH ATRIUM AS A RITUAL SPACE the deeply felt aversion towards pagan sacred buildings in Christian circles. Gesam m elte Studien z u r spätantiken Architektur. 1934— 76). Marcus and A. Wilkinson.

There was an elegant water installation in the centre of the court. Andaloro and S. Andaloro. were not everywhere and always in force.from the fifth century onwards at least . Romano. the atrium is a place of segregation between different ranks of the faith­ ful: those who are not baptized are not supposed to proceed to the nave of the church. vol. open to the sky and bounded with colonnaded porticoes. which can also be compared with the situation of St Peter’s. 38 28 29 . catechum ens w ere not allowed to en ter the Anastasis and probably stayed in the inner atrium o f the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. 34-5 tends to explain the standardization by com m on roots in Roman official architecture. For example. see m ost recently.SIBLE DE BLAAUW 4.2 8 Eusebius makes various observations regarding the function and meaning of the atrium.27 The Vatican complex had a gate building directed to the east and visible from afar for those approaching the basilica from the city. p. ed. we can envisage a structure with all the elementary features described by Eusebius (Plate 7). Fur­ thermore. St P e te r ’s A triu m a g a in s t th e B a ck g ro u n d o f E u sebiu s Returning to St Peter’s atrium. M. 380. pp. the public and the private.a mosaic decoration. On St Peter’s façade. the character of the atrium as a 27 Spain Alexander. ‘Studies’. it is possible to cast a glance into the atrium. concerning the role and place of catechumens or of penitents. the faithful will wash themselves with the water furnished by the fountain. A direct influence seems out of the ques­ tion. 416-18. the profane and the sacred. Corpus. Corpus e atlante. In the background to the west rose the façade of the basilica. It gives evidence of a very early tendency towards standardisation in Christian church building. with monumental doorways and . See Aegeria.regarding the non-baptized . 2006). In other words. but prevents them from joining the mystery celebrated inside the church. To underline the latter function. in La p ittu ra m edievale a R om a 312-1431. The columns and the added marble and mosaic adornments contributed to a level of splendour that may have equalled that evoked by Eusebius.should not be taken too literally: the same rules and conven­ tions. which was not entirely dependent on imperial patronage (and could hardly have been so in Constantine’s early years). ‘L’orizzonte tardoantico e le nuove immagini 312^468’. From outside. the atrium makes them spiritually worthy to enter the house of God. c. but at least a parallel development can be determined. All these functions can easily be attributed to the church atrium in general. M. while Stapleford. ‘Constantinian Politics’. First he stresses the function of the atrium as a transitory area between the outer and inner world. The atrium permits them to abide in the sacred precincts. 17 stresses imperial patronage. It is a zone of liminality. the visitor entered a spacious quadrangular court. I (Milan. Only the last . Having gone through the gate.29 But even then. leaving their everyday business behind. The atrium offers a first means of acquaintance with the church for nonChristians and it serves as an itinerary of reflection for Christians who come to church. bringing to mind the magnificent display of the church front in Tyre. but not into the basilica.

Geyer and O. See also M. could not resist the old pagan custom of turning to the sun and bowing to it. it was established that th e apse at the east en d offered the best harmony betw een the principles of architectural alignment on th e East-West axis and the litur­ gical requirem ent o f celebration towards the East. pp. De Blaauw. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 175-176 (Tum hout. in Itineraria et a lia geographica. ed. Both in Tyre and in the Vatican. 135-6. ed.3 0 The powerful symbolism of the morning sun entering through the façade was still noticeable in St Peter’s during the fifth century. 35-90 (76-7). 39 30 3 1 . pp. if not opportunely. ‘En vue de la lum ière’. This façade orientation is a typical feature of the first. Leo Magnus. since it offered an ele­ vated position and a clearly coordinated system of orientation. W. the symbolic function of the atrium in terms of the sacred direction of the church was still working well.3 1This prac­ tice was obviously inspired by the disposition of St Peter’s. Pope Leo the Great rebukes those faithful who. Chavasse. On the other hand. the churches were directed with their façade to the east. 34-5. Sermo 21 A. Here. experimental phase of Christian church building and may have been inspired by the biblical Temple of Jerusalem. Francheschini and R. in which both apse orientations towards the East and towards the West were practised. Drews. cols. the atrium would con­ tribute substantially to the spatial experience of the orientation of a church in a cosmic and symbolical alignment. Weber. ‘Katechum enat’. ‘En vue de la lumière: Un principe oublié dans l’orientation de l’édifice de culte paléochrétien’. P. de Blaauw. It was soon converted into an apse orientation as the norm in many regions. Two other aspects referred to by Eusebius add to the significance of the atrium. Correspondingly. an ideal context for Eusebius’ interpretation (Ezekiel 43. ed. ed. it is argued that after an experimental. pp.1). A. S. 1965). phase. Its disposition emphasized the longitudinal axis of the church and hence its direction towards the east.THE CHURCH ATRIUM AS A RITUAL SPACE space and a moment of transition was a powerful metaphor and hence an effec­ tive point of reference for the position of those awaiting baptism. Cuntz. Constantinian. 1973). 498-574. 15-45. even with an apse orientation. vol. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 138-138A (Tum hout. the morning light entered through the atrium gates and the basilica doorways into the nave. H. before entering the church. 2004). Brakmann. P. that is on the landing fronting the atrium gate. Piva (Paris. Obviously. ‘when they have mounted the steps which lead to the raised platform’. The pope specifies this reprehensible practice as taking place in front of St Peter’s. In one of his sermons. pp. 1-4 and 47. in Reallexikon f ü r A ntike u n d Christentum 20 (Stuttgart. for reasons that cannot be discussed here. The axial forecourt strengthens the alignment of the church on the sym­ bolic east-west axis. 2010). This lengthways connec­ tion of the main building elements on a single axis with an unambiguous direction ‘Itinerarium ’. Tractatus septem et nonaginta. A. in A rt médiéval: Les voies de l ’espace liturgique. Metzger. for some foolish people. I.

but had certainly developed already during the fourth century: atria served as interchanges for liturgical traffic. In St Peter’s.3 2 The atrium proves. Spàtrôm ischeKunstindustrie (Vienna. 74. shelter from the rain. ‘The Cantharus and Pigna at Old St Peter’s’. S.3 4 In some cases the baptistery was located adjacent to the atrium. the papal sacristy was built in the fifth century at the northwestern corner of the forecourt. human eyes can only grasp this magnificence in its material capac­ ity. one functional aspect of the atrium is not referred to by Eusebius explicitly. providing delight by bright illumination. Liverani. This outer simplicity has sometimes been interpreted as a kind of silent protest against the external profu­ sion of materials and decoration of the pagan temples. But more standard was probably the use of the atrium for gathering in readiness for the solemn entrance of the clergy pre­ ceding the celebrations inside the church. is its display of architectural splendour. pp. ‘Kultgebaude’. de Blaauw. The last function of the atrium. 1994). 1927). like the famous bronze pineapple (Plate 8). 16-26. pp.3 5 This means that solemn processions would start in the atrium or in the narthex (the entrance hall directly in front of the main doors of the basilica). In St Peter’s. and com pare p. Liturgia e architettura nella R om a tardoantica e medievale: Basilica Salvatoris. this is a metaphor for spiritual beauty. in the sixth cen­ tury. 5-38. De Blaauw. SanctaeM ariae. Finch. marbles. even if the centre of gravity was certainly on the interior. but it is worth taking notice of the fact that the external display of monumental gate houses. the splendour and eminence of the atrium was continuously enhanced during the Early Middle Ages. cols 358-9. but yet. 60-62. In Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Gesta 30 (1991). 65-66. Riegl. how­ ever. where the congregation would gather in liturgical community. M usei e Gallerie Pontificie 14 (1994). and by the enrichment of the fountain with additional ancient spolia. portals and fountains diverges from the rather nude and crude exterior of Early Christian buildings in general. In that case. it was usual not just for the clergy. 469-70. ‘Pavones aurei qui sunt in cantaro Paradisi’. colonnades. 40 34 3 5 . Bollettino dei M onum enti. which Eusebius does not fail to underline. Finally.SIBLE DE BLAAUW is to a high degree characteristic for the church atrium and distinguishes it from nearly all ancient precedents. M. A. This sensorial aspect is also clear enough in the atrium of St Peter’s. com pare De Blaauw. ‘Kultgebaude’. the processions inherent to the bap­ tismal ceremony would cross the atrium. with new wall paintings and figurai mosaics. that the house of the Christian God was also expected to have a worthy appearance. Of course. S. Angelucci and P. but also for the faithful to gather in the 32 33 For example. lively but concentrated. Sancti Petri (Vatican City. cols 347-8. the presence of clear water and the loveliness of its décor. pp. In Rome.33The atrium was a sensual place: open but enclosed. the sacristy where the pope was dressed for the liturgy was always adjacent to the façade and communicating with the atrium. Cultus et decor.

as Richard Stapleford observes. pp. and then proceed in a common procession into the church. since the chief sanctuaries of medieval Christian­ ity were Early Christian complexes with a prominent atrium: St Peter’s in Rome and the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. 37 Stapleford. the atrium served a markedly liturgical purpose.37This is con­ firmed by the fact that atria occur in combination with all kind of churches: cathe­ drals.4 1 C.3 9 Indeed. 4 1 I am preparing another publication on St Peter’s atrium as a place of memory over the centuries. Early Christian atria were consciously preserved. in the East as well as in the West. 12. D ie westliche Eingangsseite d er Kirchen von K onstantinopel in ju stin ia n isc h erZ e it (Wiesbaden. Prassede (ninth century) and S. to be published in the series of Conferenze of the Unione In tem a zio n a le 41 36 . its functions and meanings could also be realized or evoked in other ways.3 6 This was never a custom in Rome. ‘Constantinian politics’. Obviously. Among these meanings were certainly important historical memories. but obviously. or some of them might even be omitted. was nowhere better demonstrated than in the Constantinian church atrium. O utlook: th e D y n a m ic s o f Form a n d F unction In conclusion. The landing in front of St Peter’s atrium became the stage for the coronation of the pope and the adventus of the emperor. 5. p. like Syria and Egypt. in some later building projects. some brief observations may be made on the medieval perspective of the atrium story. 1973). The practical functions could often easily be concentrated into an entrance hall or narthex in front of the church façade.38 But none of this alters the significance of the phenomenon. new atria were deliberately designed. the ‘sem antic’ need for a transitional area preceding the entrance of a church and separating the inner from the outer world was less urgent in the ‘Christian’ middle ages than in the multi-faith society of late antiquity.4 0In all these cases. 4 0 Roman examples: S. both significant ceremonies in Western history. Both were linked with the memory of an important patron. We may suspect that the inclusion of an atrium had more to do with a desire for dignity and beauty. 39 I will discuss this question in a forthcoming publication (see below at note 41). Many reasons contributed to the virtual disappearance of the atrium from Christian church building after the sixth century. Clemente (twelfth century). the atrium was obviously per­ ceived as a powerful bearer of meanings. but in all cases. Not every Early Christian church had an atrium. both survived for many centuries and were well-known to many generations of pilgrims. than with indispensable practical requirements. The truism that ‘in architecture func­ tion is never sufficient excuse for form’. the emperor Constantine. urban churches. 38 The interchangeability of the atrium and its functional openness are em phasized by Picard. but in some places. ‘L’atrium dans les églises paléochrétiennes d ’occident’. They cannot be discussed now. Strube. they were virtually non-existent. pp. funerary and memorial basilicas. 97-105. and in some regions.THE CHURCH ATRIUM AS A RITUAL SPACE atrium before a solemn mass. 523^42.

Mélanges dArchéologie et d ’ H istoire 81 (1969). and three small gables suggesting the central porch projecting from the narthex and the lateral porticoes of the atrium. V. p. Evidently. fo. 122a. and the inner world of Christian liturgy. Paris. J. The peacocks on the roof seem to have flown there from the cantharus. MS lat. M élanges dA rchéologie et d’ H istoire 83 (1971). therefore.4 2In St Peter’s. lv (Adoration o f the Lamb). Bibliothèque Nationale. The atrium was neither standard in Early Christian architecture. 725-82.’4 5 It is an interesting hypothesis that deserves further examination. as well as a means of spir­ itual preparation for the faithful when gathering for worship in the interior of the degli Istituti d i Archeologia Storia e Storia d ell’ A rte in Roma. But without doubt. Maybe this spiritual vision of the atrium comes close to an apocalyptic stage setting.SIBLE DE BLAAUW A characteristic. and obviously still working far into the Middle Ages. but the name at any rate confirms the spiritual effect of an atrium. 159-86. The form and disposition of St Peter’s atrium. 222 with reference to Eton College. Stressed as one of the main functions of atria (in my opinion too decidedly) by Picard. CBCR. additional function. There must.-C. as in a miniature of the Gospelbook from St Médard in Soissons. 757-60. esp. represented with the usual abbreviations and contractions. starting with Leo the Great in the adjacent sacristy. it was an eminent and highly characteristic feature of Early Christian church building. It shows the interment of Gregory’s corpse in a sarcophagus in the atrium (left). jointly express a desire to create an intermediate space between the outer world. J. fo. as well as Eusebius’ text.43 In 604 Gregory the Great was also buried here. still pre­ dominantly pagan. in a crowd of clergy and mourning people. ‘L’atrium dans les églises paléochrétiennes d ’occident’. MS 124 (Codex Farfensis). but characteristically with the roof of the narthex. vol. there were no preconceived. 8850. which developed in many atria was that of a funeral area. A drawing in a late eleventh century Farfa Codex depicts this scene (Plate 9). evoked already by Euse­ bius. have been an urgent motive on the semantic level.-C. the first popes were buried in the area of the atrium in the later fifth century. pp.paradisus or ‘par­ adise. ‘Étude sur l’em placem ent des tom bes des papes du Ille au Xe siècle’. In the background appears the façade of Old St Peter’s. nor was its usage obligatory enough to cause its survival in the Middle Ages. probably in the intercolumniation of the narthex.4 6 The church atrium was one of the most innovative creations by the patrons and architects of the first generation of public Christian church building. The atrium was a medium of Christian propaganda towards pagan society. Jean-Charles Picard has suggested that this programme was the main reason for the medieval name for St Peter’s atrium . from the early ninth century. 42 42 43 44 45 46 . 532-5. practical requirements to occasion this building ele­ ment. Picard. Picard.4 4The abbreviated impression of the façade mosaic reminds us that it had an apocalyptic theme: the adoration of the lamb by the twenty-four elders and the four evangelists. ‘Les origines du m ot paradisus-pdxvls ’.

THE CHURCH ATRIUM AS A RITUAL SPACE church. 47 I refer freely to the terminology of Victor Turner. It was a liminal place. This space was not created by rituals. thanks to its expressive architectural qualities.London 1969 and many times reprinted. but it produced rituals. Hardly anywhere could a rite depassage . but it brought about a ritual of inner experience for every Christian approaching the house of God. more effectively be given a physical stage than in the church atrium. . for example in The R itual Process: Structure a n d Anti-Structure. where the Christians segregated themselves men­ tally from the society they came from. first published Chicago .47There was no predetermined ritual to take place in the atrium. in the most literal way.