25 Early Christian Architecture Summary: Academic Paper

Religious studies

Look through the 25 examples of early Christian architecture on this website. Then select five examples to compare and contrast. Briefly describe the examples you have chosen and then explain the symbolic significance of the architectural features you describe. Again, use the textbook to supplement your discussion.

Christian Architecture

Christianity played a significant role in influencing art by establishing new architectural materials, construction features, and elements. The differences and similarities between Christian churches in various locations speak to the unique history of those locations and show Christianity’s many outside influences.

The Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo is a Byzantine-style church erected by King Ostrogoth as his palace chapel and later dedicated to “Christ the Redeemer” in the 5th century. The atrium and the apse were recently modified, but the original mosaics on its lateral walls and twenty-four columns are still in good condition (Josef). The upper cycles of the wall art contain a classical art style, while the lower cycle was modified to feature a Byzantine style. The change in art form signifies a shift in political and religious affiliation as conquering Byzantine forces erased Gothic influence by replacing the “barbaric” orthodox art with “more saintly” catholic art. (Urbano 78, 82- 83). The dueling art styles thus capture a moment of transition.

Santa Constanza is another example of early Christian architecture in Italy. It is circular, with a central dome surrounded by an ambulatory and veneers on its walls (Josef). Santa Constanza was built as a mausoleum for Emperor Constantine’s daughter but was later dedicated as a church. Its late Roman designs and art also show the influence of pagan practices on the Roman Catholic Church (World Heritage Encyclopedia). It is a useful window into the evolution of Christianity.

The Church of Our Lady of Zion in Ethiopia, the Echmiadzin Mother Cathedral in Armenia, and the Church of St. George in Bulgaria are magnificent Christian pieces outside Rome. Our Lady of Zion was built during emperor Ezana’s rule and is rumored to house the Ark of the Covenant (Josef). Our Lady of Zion, like Echmiadzin Mother Cathedral, incorporates an Armenian architectural style. Additionally, both churches reflect Muslim architectural influences, showing the diverse ethnic and cultural practices of the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, the latter deviates from Our Lady of Zion’s rectangular plan by integrating a cruciform with a central cupola, four projecting apses, and free-standing piers. Echmiadzin Mother Cathedral was the first church built in Armenia in 303 AD and is considered the world’s oldest cathedral, a testament to Christianity’s sway in Armenia (Josef; “The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin”). The Church of St. George deviates from the others by using Roman architecture, incorporating a square base and a cylindrical, domed structure. Its fame comes from its frescoes. Though there are significant differences between these three churches, each one is an excellent example of Christian architecture outside of Italy.

The theological affiliations of the builders influenced the stylistic choices in early Christian art and architecture. The most dominant designs were Byzantine and Roman. The former architectural form represented Orthodox beliefs, while the latter reflected Catholic religious beliefs and motifs. This early Christian architecture has helped modern civilization better understand the church’s history from the 2nd century onwards.

Works Cited

Josef. “25 Incredible Examples of Early Christian Architecture.” List25, 18 Nov. 2017, list25.com/25-incredible-examples-early-Christian-architecture/2/.

“The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.” The Armenian Church, 10 Feb. 2017, armenianchurch.us/essential_grid/holy-etchmiadzin/.

Urbano, Arthur. “Donation, Dedication, and Damnatio Memoriae: The Catholic Reconciliation of Ravenna and the Church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.” Project Muse, vol. 13, no.1, 2019, pp. 71-110, www.academia.edu/1801310/Donation_Dedication_and_Damnatio_Memoriae_The_Catholic_Reconciliation_of_Ravenna_and_the_Church_of_SantApollinare_Nuovo\. Accessed 13 February 2019.

World Heritage Encyclopedia. “Santa Costanza.” Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.cc/articles/santa_costanza. Accessed 13 February 2019.


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Published On: 01-01-1970

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