I bought another book on Kindle. I’ve been spending time on Greek and Roman temples. Could do a lot more and probably will, but I think it’s OK for a first pass. So let’s take a look at the emergence of churches in the late Roman empire, the division into East and West, “collapse” of the Western Empire, transition to Byzantine culture and the various flavours of “Orthodox Christianity”.
I’m going to use quotes from the book again, and let the visuals speak for themselves for the most part.
The study of historical architecture is full of challenges, not the least of which is learning it from a textbook. Buildings are three-dimensional entities, whereas our systems of representing them are two dimensional.
Buildings often constitute our primary surviving evidence for reconstructing or re-imagining the culture that produced them.
The aim here is to sketch a broad outline of the history of religious buildings, a "God's eye view" if you will forgive the pun. Something we can hold in our imagination while we ruminate on the relevance of this history to our lives today. Life is a search for meaning, an exploration of patterns in time.
How does a building reflect the concerns of the society that produced it, symbolically or ideologically? How does it reflect the social or economic situation of its day?
Historians of material culture, however, tend to shy away from “high” art and architecture that reek of elitism or religiosity.
Religious buildings represent the concerns that were most important to the society that built them. They have survived for a reason.
A sense of time implies movement: our bodies move through space, out music moves through time, our eyes wander restlessly in search of meaning. I am looking for patterns, archetypal shapes that can be arranged in different combinations to represent real buildings at a certain level of abstraction. It's a kind of game, spinning the wheel of fate.
It seems that everything is in ecstatic motion, and the church itself is circling round. For the spectator, through his whirling about in all directions and being constantly astir, which he is forced to experience by the variegated spectacle on all sides, imagines that his personal condition is transferred to the object.
Most buildings have long histories, replete with additions, modifications, changes in function, or changes in demographics. Buildings are forever in the process of becoming.
So what made Christianity different from the paganism of Greece and Rome that it displaced? It was on of several “mystery cults” circulating around that time.
These religions promised salvation in the next world to a select few who followed strict guidelines in their daily lives, professed their faith, and had undergone initiation rites; they offered comfort and reassurance to those living in difficult times;
Formally, the basilica also stood in sharp contrast to the pagan temple, at which worship was conducted out of doors. The church basilica was essentially a meeting house, not a sacred structure; the people, not the building, comprised the ecclesia— although the two gradually became conflated.
Why was the basilica selected as a building type? Perhaps most importantly because it was not a temple and could never be mistaken for one.
Some interesting thoughts about the religious buildings of history, the value of engaging them experientially in 3D, and their ability to offer insights into past societies. More to come.