If inspiration, awe and provocation of an emotional experience were requirements for Architecture, Christianity had more than met those requirements, starting from the beginnings of Christendom.


Through the ages, we will explore the achievements and contributions to architecture from Christianity. 

Years 229-439


Early Christian

The early Christians' contribution to architecture was a magnificent achievement in every aspect. Christians first met in homes; later, because of persecution, they met in catacombs in secret, (underground tunnels of a burial ground). Compartments within the catacombs were adorned with intricately designed fresco murals expressing Christianity's beliefs.

When they were recognized as a religion they began to build.


Basilicas, and cathedrals were designed for a meeting place to welcome a huge number of people. They became the skyscrapers of the day. Walking inside one, one would be overwhelmed by it's height. The ceilings, arches, and domes seemed to reach up towards God.

Light would flood in through enormously beautiful stain glass windows that would tower over the people. A variety of vibrant colors of light would flood through the windows onto the floors, walls and peoples' souls.

The imagery was always intricate, always telling the greatest story. Walking into a basilica or cathedral one could not help but to lift up the eyes, mind, and heart to worship. Parishioners would be engulfed with imagery everywhere the eye could see. They saw mosaics, fresco murals, stain glass windows, and statues, all telling the viewer about God and the Christian beliefs. They saw events that were lived out; that were told from the Bible. 

The magnificent works of art were incorporated into the very design of the architecture.

In the 4th century, 


In the 4th century, the Edict of Milan allowed public Christian worship and led to the development of a monumental Christian art. Christians were able to build edifices for worship larger and more handsome than the furtive meeting places they had been using. 

Existing architectural formulas for temples were unsuitable because pagan sacrifices occurred outdoors in the sight of the gods, with the temple, housing the cult figures and the treasury, as a backdrop. 

As an architectural model for large churches, Christians chose the basilica, the Roman public building used for justice and administration. These basilica-churches had a center nave with one or more aisles at each side and a rounded apse at one end: on this raised platform sat the bishop and priests, and also the altar. 

Although it appears that early altars were constructed of wood (as is the case in the Dura-Europos church) altars of this period were built of stone, and began to become more richly designed. 

Richer materials could now be used for art, such as the mosaics that decorate Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and the 5th century basilicas of Ravenna, where narrative sequences begin to develop.

Much Christian art borrowed from Imperial imagery, including Christ in Majesty, and the use of the halo as a symbol of sanctity. 

Late Antique Christian art replaced classical Hellenistic naturalism with a more abstract aesthetic. The primary purpose of this new style was to convey religious meaning rather than accurately render objects and people. 
Realistic perspective, proportions, light and colour were ignored in favor of geometric simplification, reverse perspective and standardized conventions to portray individuals and events. 

Icons of Christ, Mary and the saints, ivory carving, and illuminated manuscripts became important.

Oldest Church in the World:  Yr 229

 1,782 years old


The Dura-Europos house church with chapel.

The Dura-Europos church (also known as the Dura-Europos house church) is the earliest identified Christian house church. It is located in Dura-Europos in Syria. It is one of the earliest known Christian churches, and was apparently a normal domestic house converted for worship some time between 233 and 256.   It is less famous, smaller, and more modestly decorated than the nearby Dura Europos synagogue, though there are many other similarities between them.

The fate of the church structure is unknown after occupation by ISIS. 



The site of Dura-Europos, a former city and walled fortification, was excavated largely in the 1920s and 1930s by French and American teams. Within the archaeological site, the house church is located by the 17th tower and preserved by the same defensive fill that saved the nearby Dura-Europos synagogue.

The building consists of a house conjoined to a separate hall-like room, which functioned as the meeting room for the church. The surviving frescoes of the room serving as the baptistry are probably the most ancient Christian paintings. The "Good Shepherd", the "Healing of the paralytic" and "Christ and Peter walking on the water" are considered the earliest depictions of Jesus Christ.

Fragments of parchment scrolls with Hebrew texts had been unearthed that were Christian Eucharistic prayers.




For further reading:

Weitzmann, Kurt, ed., Age of spirituality : late antique and early Christian art, third to seventh century, nos. 360 (fresco) and 580 (architecture), 1979, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, ISBN 9780870991790; full text available online from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries
C H Kraeling, The Christian Building, 1967, Yale University Press
Clark Hopkins, The Discovery of Dura-Europos, Yale University Press, 1979
Penny Young, Dura Europos A City for Everyman, Twopenny Press, 2014

Old St. Peter's: Yr 322

Old St. Peter's Basilica









St. Peter's Basilica Basilica di San Pietro 1450


19th-century drawing of St. Peter's Basilica as it is thought to have looked around 1450. The Vatican Obelisk is on the left, still standing on the spot where it was erected on the orders of the Emperor Caligula in 37 A.D.

Architectural description

Architectural style: Ancient Roman architecture
Groundbreaking: 326-333
Completed:  Ad. 360







Fresco showing cutaway view of Constantine's

St. Peter's Basilica as it looked in the 4th century

Old St. Peter's Basilica was the building that stood, from the 4th to 16th centuries, where the new St. Peter's Basilica stands today in Vatican City. Construction of the basilica, built over the historical site of the Circus of Nero, began during the reign of Emperor Constantine I. The name "old St. Peter's Basilica" has been used since the construction of the current basilica to distinguish the two buildings.





An early interpretation of the relative locations of the Circus of Nero, and the old and current Basilicas of St. Peter


Construction began by orders of the Roman Emperor Constantine I between 318 and 322, and took about 30 years to complete. Over the next twelve centuries, the church gradually gained importance, eventually becoming a major place of pilgrimage in Rome.

Papal coronations were held at the basilica. In 800, Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire there. In 846, Saracens sacked and damaged the basilica. The raiders seem to have known about Rome's extraordinary treasures. Some holy – and impressive – basilicas, such as St. Peter's Basilica, were outside the Aurelian walls, and easy targets. They were "filled to overflowing with rich liturgical vessels and with jeweled reliquaries housing all of the relics recently amassed". As a result, the raiders pillaged the holy shrine.


In response Pope Leo IV built the Leonine wall and rebuilt the parts of St. Peter's that had been damaged.

By the 15th century the church was falling into ruin. Discussions on repairing parts of the structure commenced.  Two people involved in this reconstruction were Leon Battista Alberti and Bernardo Rossellino, who improved the apse and partially added a multi-story benediction loggia to the atrium facade, on which construction continued intermittently until the new basilica was begun. Alberti pronounced the basilica a structural abomination:

"I have noticed in the basilica of St. Peter's in Rome a crass feature: an extremely long and high wall has been constructed over a continuous series of openings, with no curves to give it strength, and no buttresses to lend it support... The whole stretch of wall has been pierced by too many openings and built too high... As a result, the continual force of the wind has already displaced the wall more than six feet (1.8 m) from the vertical; I have no doubt that eventually some... slight movement will make it collapse."..

At first Pope Julius II had every intention of preserving the old building, but his attention soon turned toward tearing it down and building a new structure. Many people of the time were shocked by the proposal, as the building represented papal continuity going back to Peter. The original altar was to be preserved in the new structure that housed it.


The design was a typical basilica form with the plan and elevation resembling those of Roman basilicas and audience halls, such as the Basilica Ulpia in Trajan's Forum and Constantine's own Aula Palatina at Trier, rather than the design of any Greco-Roman temple.

Constantine went to great pains to build the basilica on the site of Saint Peter's grave, and this fact influenced the layout of the building. The Vatican Hill, on the west bank of the Tiber River, was leveled. Notably, since the site was outside the boundaries of the ancient city, the apse with the altar was located in the west so that the basilica's façade could be approached from Rome itself to the east. The exterior however, unlike earlier pagan temples, was not lavishly decorated.

The church was capable of housing from 3,000 to 4,000 worshipers at one time. It consisted of five aisles, a wide central nave and two smaller aisles to each side, which were each divided by 21 marble columns, taken from earlier pagan buildings. It was over 350 feet (110 m) long, built in the shape of a Latin cross, and had a gabled roof which was timbered on the interior and which stood at over 100 feet (30 m) at the center. An atrium, known as the "Garden of Paradise", stood at the entrance and had five doors which led to the body of the church; this was a sixth-century addition.

The altar of Old St. Peter's Basilica used several Solomonic columns. According to tradition, Constantine took these columns from the Temple of Solomon and gave them to the church; however, the columns were probably from an Eastern church. When Gian Lorenzo Bernini built his baldacchino to cover the new St. Peter's altar, he drew from the twisted design of the old columns. Eight of the original columns were moved to the piers of the new St. Peter's.


The great Navicella mosaic (1305-1313) in the atrium is attributed to Giotto di Bondone. The giant mosaic, commissioned by Cardinal Jacopo Stefaneschi, occupied the whole wall above the entrance arcade facing the courtyard. It depicted St. Peter walking on the waters. This extraordinary work was mainly destroyed during the construction of the new St. Peter's in the 16th century, but fragments were preserved. Navicella means "little ship" referring to the large boat which dominated the scene, and whose sail, filled by the storm, loomed over the horizon. Such a natural representation of a seascape was known only from ancient works of art.






The 1628 full-size copy in oil of the great Navicella mosaic by Giott



Further reading:

The Vatican: spirit and art of Christian Rome. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1982. ISBN 0870993488. (pp. 51–61)
Weitzmann, Kurt, ed., Age of spirituality: late antique and early Christian art, third to seventh century, no. 581, 1979, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, ISBN 9780870991790

St. John Lateran: Yr 324









Façade of the Archbasilica of St. John in Lateran



Location Rome
Country Italy
Denomination Catholic
Tradition Latin Rite

Architect(s) Alessandro Galilei
Architectural type Cathedral
Style Baroque, Neoclassical
Groundbreaking AD 4th century
Completed 1735

Materials    Marble, granite, and cement

UNESCO World Heritage Site


The Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran, also known as the Papal Archbasilica of St. John [in] Lateran, St. John Lateran, or the Lateran Basilica - is the cathedral church of Rome, Italy and therefore houses the cathedra, or ecclesiastical seat, of the Bishop of Rome (Pope).

It is the oldest and highest ranking of the four papal major basilicas, giving it the unique title of "archbasilica". Because it is the oldest public church in the city of Rome, also it is the oldest and most important basilica of the Western world, and houses the cathedra of the Roman bishop, it has the title of ecumenical mother church of the Catholic faithful.


The Middle Ages



The papal cathedra, the presence of which renders the archbasilica the cathedral of Rome, is located in its apse. The decorations are in cosmatesque style.

Lateran fires

During the time the papacy was seated in Avignon, France, the Lateran Palace and the archbasilica deteriorated. Two fires ravaged them in 1307 and 1361. 


When the papacy returned from Avignon and the pope again resided in Rome, the archbasilica and the Lateran Palace were deemed inadequate considering their accumulated damage. The popes resided at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere and later at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Eventually, the Palace of the Vatican was built adjacent to the Basilica of St. Peter, which existed since the time of Emperor Constantine I, and the popes began to reside there. It has remained the official residence of the pope (though Pope Francis unofficially resides elsewhere in the Vatican City.



The original Lateran Palace was demolished and replaced with a new edifice. On the square in front of the Lateran Palace is the largest standing obelisk in the world, known as the Lateran Obelisk. It weighs an estimated 455 tons. It was commissioned by the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III and erected by Thutmose IV before the great Karnak temple of Thebes, Egypt. Intended by Emperor Constantine I to be shipped to Constantinople, the very preoccupied Constantius II had it shipped instead to Rome, where it was erected in the Circus Maximus in AD 357. At some time it broke and was buried under the Circus. In the 16th century it was discovered and excavated, and Sixtus V had it re-erected on a new pedestal on 3 August 1588 at its present site.


Further renovation of the interior of the archbasilica, ensued under the direction of Francesco Borromini, commissioned by Pope Innocent X.


Main body of the basilica, after the radical transformation by Francesco Borromini.

World War II

During the Second World War, the Lateran and its related buildings were used under Pope Pius XII as a safe haven from the Nazis and Italian Fascists for numbers of Jews and other refugees. Among those who found shelter there were Meuccio Ruini, Alcide De Gasperi, Pietro Nenni and others. The Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and the sixty orphan refugees they cared for were ordered to leave their convent on the Via Carlo Emanuele. The Sisters of Maria Bambina, who staffed the kitchen at the Pontifical Major Roman Seminary at the Lateran offered a wing of their convent. The grounds also housed Italian soldiers.

Holy Door at the Lateran Papal Basilica

Some few remains of the original buildings may still be traced in the city walls outside the Gate of St. John, and a large wall decorated with paintings was uncovered in the 18th century within the archbasilica behind the Lancellotti Chapel. A few traces of older buildings were also revealed during the excavations of 1880, when the work of extending the apse was in progress, but nothing of importance was published.

In 897, it was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake. The damage was so extensive that it was difficult to trace the lines of the old building, but these were mostly respected and the new building was of the same dimensions as the old. This second basilica stood for 400 years before it burned in 1308. It was rebuilt by Pope Clement V and Pope John XXII. It burned once more in 1360, and was rebuilt by Pope Urban V.

Through vicissitudes the archbasilica retained its ancient form, being divided by rows of columns into aisles, and having in front a peristyle surrounded by colonnades with a fountain in the middle, the conventional Late Antique format that was also followed by the old St. Peter's Basilica. The façade had three windows and was embellished with a mosaic representing Christ as the Savior of the world.


In one of the rebuildings, probably that which was carried out by Pope Clement V, a transverse nave was introduced, imitated no doubt from the one which had been added, long before this, to the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. Probably at this time the archbasilica was enlarged.

Some portions of the older buildings survive. Among them the pavement of medieval Cosmatesque work, and the statues of St. Peter and St. Paul, now in the cloister. The graceful ciborium over the high altar, which looks out of place in its present surroundings, dates from 1369. The stercoraria, or throne of red marble on which the Popes sat, is now in the Vatican Museums.

From the 5th century, there were seven oratories surrounding the archbasilica. These before long were incorporated into the church. The devotion of visiting these oratories, which was maintained through the Mediaeval Ages, gave rise to the similar devotion of the seven altars, still common in many churches of Rome and elsewhere.


Of the façade by Alessandro Galilei (1735), the cliché assessment has ever been that it is the façade of a palace, not of a church. Galilei's front, which is a screen across the older front creating a narthex or vestibule, does express the nave and double aisles of the archbasilica, which required a central bay wider than the rest of the sequence. Galilei provided it, without abandoning the range of identical arch-headed openings, by extending the central window by flanking columns that support the arch, in the familiar Serlian motif.

By bringing the central bay forward very slightly, and capping it with a pediment that breaks into the roof balustrade, Galilei provided an entrance doorway on a more than colossal scale, framed in the paired colossal Corinthian pilasters that tie together the façade in the manner introduced at Michelangelo's palace on the Campidoglio.


Statues of the Apostles

The twelve niches created in Francesco Borromini's architecture were left vacant for decades. When in 1702 Pope Clement XI and Benedetto Cardinal Pamphili, archpriests of the archbasilica, announced their grand scheme for twelve larger-than-life sculptures of the Apostles (replacing Judas Iscariot with St. Paul) to fill the niches, the commission was opened to all the premier sculptors of late Baroque Rome. 

Papal tombs
There are six extant papal tombs inside the archbasilica.

Twelve additional papal tombs were constructed in the archbasilica starting in the 10th century, but were destroyed during the two fires that ravaged it in 1308 and 1361. The remains of these charred tombs were gathered and reburied in a polyandrum.

Lateran cloister

Between the archbasilica and the city wall there was in former times a great monastery, in which dwelt the community of monks whose duty it was to provide the services in the archbasilica. The only part of it which still survives is the 13th century cloister, surrounded by graceful, twisted columns of inlaid marble. They are of a style intermediate between the Romanesque proper and the Gothic, and are the work of Vassellectus and the Cosmati.


Lateran baptistery

The octagonal Lateran baptistery stands somewhat apart from the archbasilica. It was founded by Pope Sixtus III, perhaps on an earlier structure, for a legend arose that Emperor Constantine I was baptized there and enriched the edifice. The baptistery was for many generations the only baptistery in Rome, and its octagonal structure, centered upon the large basin for full immersions, provided a model for others throughout Italy, and even an iconic motif of illuminated manuscripts known as "the fountain of life".


Holy Stairs


The Scala Sancta


The Scala Sancta, or Holy Stairs, are white marble steps encased in wooden ones. According to Catholic Tradition, they form the staircase which once led to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem and which, therefore, were sanctified by the footsteps of Jesus Christ during His Passion.



Alessandro Galilei completed the late Baroque façade of the archbasilica

in 1735 after winning a competition for the design.


The decorated ceiling.


The cloister of the attached monastery.


Church of the Nativity: Yrs 333-339


Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Palestine
The interior of the Church of the Nativity circa 1936, photographed by Lewis Larsson


Architectural description:
Architectural type Byzantine (Constantine the Great and Justinian I)
Architectural style: Romanesque
Groundbreaking 325
Completed 565
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Official name: Birthplace of Jesus: the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem

The Church of the Nativity, also Basilica of the Nativity is a basilica located in Bethlehem in the West Bank. The grotto holds a prominent religious significance to Christians of various denominations as the birthplace of Jesus. The grotto is the oldest site continuously worshipped in Christianity, and the basilica is the oldest major church in the Holy Land.

The church was originally commissioned in 327 by Constantine the Great and his mother Helena (Constantinian Basilica) on the site that was traditionally considered to be the birthplace of Jesus. That original basilica was completed sometime between 333-339. It was destroyed by fire during the Samaritan revolts of the 6th century, and a new basilica was built in 565 by Byzantine Emperor Justinian, who restored the architectural tone of the original.

The Church of the Nativity, while remaining basically unchanged since the Justinian reconstruction, has seen numerous repairs and additions, especially from the Crusader period, such as two bell towers (now gone), wall mosaics and paintings (partially preserved). Over the centuries, the surrounding compound has been expanded, and today it covers approximately 12,000 square meters, comprising three different monasteries: one Greek Orthodox, one Armenian Apostolic, and one Roman Catholic, of which the first two contain bell-towers built during the modern era.

The silver star marking the spot where Christ was born was stolen in 1847, and this was one of the direct causes for French involvement in the Crimean War against the Russian Empire.


Holy site before Constantine (ca. 4 BC–327 CE)

The holy site known as the Nativity Grotto is thought to be the cave in which Jesus of Nazareth was born.

When the Child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger, and here the Magi who came from Arabia found Him.

Additionally, early Christian theologian and Greek philosopher Origen of Alexandria (185–c. 254) wrote:

In Bethlehem the cave is pointed out where He was born, and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. And the rumor is in those places, and among foreigners of the Faith, that indeed Jesus was born in this cave who is worshipped and reverenced by the Christians.

Justinian's basilica (565)

The basilica was rebuilt in its present form in 565 by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.














The basilica and grounds as they were depicted in a work published in 1487


Crusader to Mamluk period (12th-15th centuries)

The Khwarezmian Turks desecrated the Church of the Nativity, April 1244, leaving the roof in poor condition. The Duchy of Burgundy committed resources to restore the roof in August 1448 and multiple regions contributed supplies. 





The interior of the Church of the Nativity as it was depicted in 1833


Nineteenth century

Earthquakes inflicted significant damage to the Church of the Nativity between 1834 and 1837. 


By 1846, the Church of the Nativity and its surrounding site lay in disrepair and vulnerable to looting.


Much of the interior marble flooring was looted in the early half of the 19th century, much of which was transferred to use in other buildings around the region, including the Haram ash-Sharif (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. The religiously significant silver star marking the exact birthplace of Jesus was stolen in 1846 from the Grotto of the Nativity.  The Sultan of Turkey replaced the silver star at the Grotto, complete with a Latin inscription, later.


The interior of the Church of the Nativity in the 1930s


Approximately 50 armed Palestinians wanted by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) locked themselves in the church in April 2002 during the Second Intifada, holding hostage 200 monks and other Palestinians—some of whom served as human shields for the terrorists. The IDF did not break into the building, but they prevented the entry of food and cut telephone lines. The siege lasted 39 days, and some of the terrorists were shot by IDF snipers.

Curtains caught fire in the grotto beneath the church on 27 May 2014, which resulted in some slight damage.

The Church undertook a major renovation starting in September 2013,  about to be completed as of April 2018. Italian restoration workers uncovered a seventh mosaic angel in July 2016, which was previously hidden under plaster.


Property and administration

The property rights, liturgical use and maintenance of the church are regulated by a set of documents and understandings known as the Status Quo. The church is owned by three church authorities, the Greek Orthodox (most of the building and furnishings), the Armenian Apostolic and the Roman Catholic (each of them with lesser properties).The Coptic Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox are holding minor rights of worship at the Armenian church in the northern transept, and at the Altar of Nativity. There have been repeated brawls among monk trainees over quiet respect for others' prayers, hymns and even the division of floor space for cleaning duties.The Palestinian police have been called to restore peace and order.


Site architecture and layout

The centrepiece of the Nativity complex is the Grotto of the Nativity, a cave which enshrines the site where Jesus is said to have been born.

The core of the complex connected to the Grotto consists of the Church of the Nativity itself, and the adjoining Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine north of it.


Plan of the Church of the Nativity from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.

(1) Narthex; (2) nave; (3) aisles. The Grotto of the Nativity is situated

right underneath the chancel, with the silver star at its eastern end

(top side of the plan). North is to the left


Outer courtyard

Bethlehem's main city square, Manger Square, is an extension of the large paved courtyard in front of the Church of the Nativity and St Catherine's. Here crowds gather on Christmas Eve to sing Christmas carols in anticipation of the midnight services.


Church, or Basilica, of the Nativity

Interior of the Church of the Nativity before the latest renovations


The main Basilica of the Nativity is maintained by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. It is designed like a typical Roman basilica, with five aisles formed by Corinthian columns, and an apse in the eastern end containing the sanctuary.

The basilica is entered through a very low door called the "Door of Humility."

The church's interior walls features medieval golden mosaics once covering the side walls, which are now in large parts lost.

The original Roman-style floor of the basilica has been covered over with flagstones, but there is a trap door in the floor which opens up to reveal a portion of the original mosaic pavement from the Constantinian basilica


There are 44 columns separating the aisles from each other and from the nave, some of which are painted with images of saints, such as the Irish monk St. Cathal (fl. 7th century), the patron of the Sicilian Normans, St. Canute (c. 1042-1086), king of Denmark, and St. Olaf (995-1030), king of Norway.

The east end of the church consists of a raised chancel, closed by an apse containing the main altar and separated from the chancel by a large gilded iconostasis.

A complex array of sanctuary lamps is placed throughout the entire building.

The open ceiling exposes the wooden rafters, recently restored. The previous 15th-century restoration used beams donated by King Edward IV of England, who also donated lead to cover the roof; however, this lead was taken by the Ottoman Turks, who melted it down for ammunition to use in war against Venice.

Stairways on either side of the chancel lead down to the Grotto.

Grotto of the Nativity

The Grotto of the Nativity, the place where Jesus is said to have been born, is an underground space which forms the crypt of the Church of the Nativity. It is situated underneath its main altar, and it is normally accessed by two staircases on either side of the chancel. The Grotto is part of a network of caves, which are accessed from the adjacent Church St Catherine's. The tunnel-like corridor connecting the Grotto to the other caves is normally locked.

The cave has an eastern niche said to be the place where Jesus was born, which contains the Altar of Nativity. The exact spot where Jesus was born is marked beneath this altar by a 14-pointed silver star with the Latin inscription Hic De Virgine Maria Jesus Christus Natus Est-1717 (Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary-1717). It was installed by the Catholics in 1717, removed - allegedly by the Greeks - in 1847, and replaced by the Turkish government in 1853. The star is set into the marble floor and surrounded by 15 silver lamps representing the three Christian communities: six belong to the Greek Orthodox, four to the Catholics, and five to the Armenian Apostolic. The Altar of the Nativity is maintained by the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic churches.

Roman Catholics are in charge of a section of the Grotto known as the "Grotto of the Manger", marking the traditional site where Mary laid the newborn Baby in the manger. The Altar of the Magi is located directly opposite from the manger site.

Church of St. Catherine

The adjoining Church of St. Catherine is a Roman Catholic church dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, built in a more modern Gothic Revival style. It has been further modernized according to the liturgical trends which followed Vatican II.

This is the church where the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem celebrates Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Certain customs in this Midnight Mass predate Vatican II, but must be maintained because the status quo was legally fixed by a firman (decree) in 1852 under the Ottoman Empire, which is still in force today.


Caves accessed from St. Catherine's

Several chapels are found in the caves accessed from St. Catherine's, including the Chapel of Saint Joseph commemorating the angel's appearance to Joseph, commanding him to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13); the Chapel of the Innocents, commemorating the children killed by Herod (Matthew 2:16–18); and the Chapel of Saint Jerome, in the underground cell where tradition holds he lived while translating the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate).

World Heritage Site

In 2012, the church complex became the first Palestinian site to be listed as a World Heritage Site by the World Heritage Committee at its 36th session on 29 June. It has also been placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger as it is suffering from damages due to water leaks.

Restoration (2013-2018)

In 2010, the Palestinian Authority announced that a multimillion-dollar restoration programme was imminent.

The initial phase of the restoration work was completed in early 2016. The project is partially funded by Palestinians and conducted by a team of Palestinian and international experts. New windows have been installed, structural repairs on the roof have been completed and art works and mosaics have been cleaned and restored. Although overwhelmingly Muslim, Palestinians consider the church a national treasure and one of their most visited tourist sites. President Mahmoud Abbas has been actively involved in the project, which is led by Ziad al-Bandak.








Constantine's 4th-century mosaic floor rediscovered














The Door of Humility, Main Entrance into the Church  

(4ft x 2 ft- one needs to bow  before entering)                                                                              





The Altar of the Nativity, beneath which is the star                              The upper part of the Altar of the Nativity

marking the spot where tradition says Jesus was born


Church of Holy Sepulcher: Yr 335

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre-Jerusalem.

Architectural description:
Architect(s):  Nikolaos Ch. Komnenos (1810 restoration)
Architectural type: Church, Basilica
Architectural style: Romanesque, Baroque
Founder: Constantine the Great
Completed: 335 (demolished in 1009, rebuilt in 1048)

Capacity: 8,000
Dome(s): 3
Materials: Stone, wood


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre:
(Also called the  Church of the Resurrection or  Church of the Anastasis by Orthodox Christians) is a church in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The church contains, according to traditions dating back to at least the fourth century, the two holiest sites in Christianity: the site where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, at a place known as "Calvary" or "Golgotha", and Jesus's empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected. The tomb is enclosed by the 19th-century shrine, called the Aedicule (Edicule). The Status Quo, a 150-year-old understanding between religious communities, applies to the site.

Within the church proper are the last four (or, by some definitions, five) Stations of the Via Dolorosa, representing the final episodes of Jesus' Passion. The church has been a major Christian pilgrimage destination since its creation in the fourth century, as the traditional site of the Resurrection of Christ, thus its original Greek name, Church of the Anastasis.

Today, the wider complex accumulated during the centuries around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre also serves as the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, while control of the church itself is shared among several Christian denominations and secular entities in complicated arrangements essentially unchanged for over 160 years, and some for much longer. The main denominations sharing property over parts of the church are the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic, and to a lesser degree the Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox. 


Construction (4th century)




A diagram of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre showing the traditional site of Calvary and the Tomb of Jesus

Traditional site of Golgotha


According to Eusebius of Caesarea, the Roman emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD built a temple dedicated to the goddess Venus in order to bury the cave in which Jesus had been buried. The first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great, ordered in about 325/326 that the temple be replaced by a church. During the building of the Church, Constantine's mother, Helena, is believed to have rediscovered the tomb. 


Constantine's church was built as two connected churches over the two different holy sites, including a great basilica (the Martyrium visited by Egeria in the 380s), an enclosed colonnaded atrium (the Triportico) with the traditional site of Golgotha in one corner, and a rotunda, called the Anastasis ("Resurrection" in Greek), which contained the remains of a rock-cut room that Helena and Macarius identified as the burial site of Jesus.


According to tradition, Constantine arranged for the rockface to be removed from around the tomb, without harming it, in order to isolate the tomb; in the centre of the rotunda is a small building called the Kouvouklion in Greek or the Aedicula in Latin,[b] which encloses this tomb. The remains are completely enveloped by a marble sheath placed some 500 years before to protect the ledge from Ottoman attacks. However, there are several thick window wells extending through the marble sheath, from the interior to the exterior that are not marble clad. They appear to reveal an underlying limestone rock, which may be part of the original living rock of the tomb.

Damage and destruction (614–1009)

This building was damaged by fire in May of 614 when the Sassanid Empire, under Khosrau II, invaded Jerusalem and captured the True Cross. In 630, the Emperor Heraclius restored it and rebuilt the church after recapturing the city. After Jerusalem came under Arab rule, it remained a Christian church, with the early Muslim rulers protecting the city's Christian sites. A story reports that the Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab visited the church and stopped to pray on the balcony; but at the time of prayer, he turned away from the church and prayed outside. He feared that future generations would misinterpret this gesture, taking it as a pretext to turn the church into a mosque. Eutychius added that Umar wrote a decree prohibiting Muslims from praying at this location. The building suffered severe damage due to an earthquake in 746.

Early in the ninth century, another earthquake damaged the dome of the Anastasis. The damage was repaired in 810 by Patriarch Thomas. In the year 841, the church suffered a fire. In 935, the Orthodox Christians prevented the construction of a Muslim mosque adjacent to the Church. In 938, a new fire damaged the inside of the basilica and came close to the rotunda. In 966, due to a defeat of Muslim armies in the region of Syria, a riot broke out, which was followed by reprisals. The basilica was burned again. The doors and roof were burnt, and the Patriarch John VII was murdered.

On 18 October 1009, Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the complete destruction of the church as part of a more general campaign against Christian places of worship in Palestine and Egypt.The damage was extensive, with few parts of the early church remaining. Christian Europe reacted with shock and expulsions of Jews (for example, Cluniac monk Rodulfus Glaber blamed the Jews, with the result that Jews were expelled from Limoges and other French towns[citation needed]) and an impetus to later Crusades.

Reconstruction (11th century)














View of Holy Sepulchre courtyard also showing the Immovable Ladder


There were wide-ranging negotiations between the Fatimids and the Byzantine Empire in 1027–28. The rebuilt church site consisted of "a court open to the sky, with five small chapels attached to it." The chapels were to the east of the court of resurrection, where the wall of the great church had been. They commemorated scenes from the passion, such as the location of the prison of Christ and of his flagellation, and presumably were so placed because of the difficulties of free movement among shrines in the streets of the city. The dedication of these chapels indicates the importance of the pilgrims' devotion to the suffering of Christ. They have been described as 'a sort of Via Dolorosa in miniature'... since little or no rebuilding took place on the site of the great basilica. Western pilgrims to Jerusalem during the eleventh century found much of the sacred site in ruins." Control of Jerusalem, and thereby the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, continued to change hands several times between the Fatimids and the Seljuk Turks (loyal to the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad) until the arrival of the Crusaders in 1099.

Crusader period (1099–1244)













Painting by Émile Signol (1804–1892) of the capture of Jerusalem

by the Crusaders on 15 July 1099 :

1. The Holy Sepulchre
2. The Dome of the Rock
3. Ramparts

The First Crusade was envisioned as an armed pilgrimage, and no crusader could consider his journey complete unless he had prayed as a pilgrim at the Holy Sepulchre. Crusader Prince Godfrey of Bouillon, who became the first crusader monarch of Jerusalem, decided not to use the title "king" during his lifetime, and declared himself "Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri" ("Protector [or Defender] of the Holy Sepulchre"). By the crusader period, a cistern under the former basilica was rumoured to have been the location where Helena had found the True Cross, and began to be venerated as such; although the cistern later became the "Chapel of the Invention of the Cross," there is no evidence of the rumour before the 11th century, and modern archaeological investigation has now dated the cistern to 11th century repairs by Monomachos.

William of Tyre, chronicler of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, reports on the renovation of the Church in the mid-12th century. The crusaders investigated the eastern ruins on the site, occasionally excavating through the rubble, and while attempting to reach the cistern, they discovered part of the original ground level of Hadrian's temple enclosure; they decided to transform this space into a chapel dedicated to Helena (the Chapel of Saint Helena), widening their original excavation tunnel into a proper staircase. The crusaders began to refurnish the church in a Romanesque style and added a bell tower.


These renovations unified the small chapels on the site and were completed during the reign of Queen Melisende in 1149, placing all the Holy places under one roof for the first time.

Ottoman and later periods

The Franciscan friars renovated it further in 1555, as it had been neglected despite increased numbers of pilgrims. The Franciscans rebuilt the Aedicule, extending the structure to create an ante-chamber.

A fire severely damaged the structure again in 1808, causing the dome of the Rotunda to collapse and smashing the Aedicule's exterior decoration. The Rotunda and the Aedicule's exterior were rebuilt in 1809–1810 by architect Nikolaos Ch. Komnenos of Mytilene in the then current Ottoman Baroque style. The fire did not reach the interior of the Aedicule, and the marble decoration of the Tomb dates mainly to the 1555 restoration, although the interior of the ante-chamber, now known as the "Chapel of the Angel," was partly rebuilt to a square ground-plan, in place of the previously semi-circular western end. Another decree in 1853 from the sultan solidified the existing territorial division among the communities and set a "status quo" for arrangements to "remain forever," causing differences of opinion about upkeep and even minor changes, including disagreement on the removal of the "Immovable Ladder", an exterior ladder under one of the windows; this ladder has remained in the same position since then.

The church after its 1808 restoration

The cladding of red marble applied to the Aedicule by Komnenos has deteriorated badly and is detaching from the underlying structure; since 1947 it has been held in place with an exterior scaffolding of iron girders installed by the British authorities. A careful renovation is undergoing, funded by a $4 million gift from King Abdullah II of Jordan and a $1.3-million gift from Mica Ertegun.

The current dome dates from 1870, although it was restored between 1994–1997, as part of extensive modern renovations to the church which have been ongoing since 1959.


In 2016, restoration works were performed in the Aedicule. For the first time since at least 1555, marble cladding which protected the estimated burial bed of Jesus from vandalism and souvenir takers was removed. When the cladding was first removed on October 26, an initial inspection by the National Technical University of Athens team showed only a layer of fill material underneath. By the night of October 28, the original limestone burial bed was revealed intact. This suggested that the tomb location has not changed through time and confirmed the existence of the original limestone cave walls within the Aedicule. The tomb was resealed shortly thereafter.







The Rock of Calvary as seen in the Chapel of Adam

Just inside the church is a stairway climbing to Calvary (Golgotha), traditionally regarded as the site of Jesus' crucifixion and the most lavishly decorated part of the church. The exit is via another stairway opposite the first, leading down to the ambulatory. The Golgotha and its chapels are just south of the main altar of the Catholicon.

On the ground floor, underneath the Golgotha chapel proper, are the Chapel of Adam and the Treasury of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, holding many relics including an alleged fragment of the Holy Cross.

The raised Chapel of the Calvary, or Golgotha Chapel, contains the apex of the Rock of Calvary (12th Station of the Cross). It is split into two halves, one Greek Orthodox and one Catholic, each one with its own altar. The northern half with the main altar belongs to the Greek Orthodox. The rock can be seen under glass on both sides of the altar, and beneath the altar there is a hole in the rock, said to be the place where the cross was raised. Due to the significance of this, it is the most visited site in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre along with the Tomb of Jesus. The Roman Catholic (Franciscan) Chapel of the Nailing of the Cross (11th Station of the Cross) stretches south of it. Between the Catholic and the Orthodox altar, there is a statue of Mary, believed by some to be miraculous. It marks the 13th Station of the Cross, where Jesus' body was removed from the cross and given to his family and disciples.

Beneath the Calvary and the two chapels there, on the main floor, there is the Chapel of Adam. According to tradition, Jesus was crucified over the place where Adam's skull was buried. According to some, at the crucifixion, the blood of Christ ran down the cross and through the rocks to fill the skull of Adam. The Rock of Calvary appears cracked through a window on the altar wall, with the crack traditionally claimed to be caused by the earthquake that occurred when Jesus died on the cross.

Stone of Anointing

Just inside the entrance to the church is the Stone of Anointing (also Stone of the Anointing or Stone of Unction), which tradition believes to be the spot where Jesus' body was prepared for burial by Joseph of Arimathea. 

The wall behind the stone is defined by its striking blue balconies and tau cross-bearing red banners (depicting the insignia of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre), and is decorated with lamps. The modern three-part mosaic along the wall depicts the anointing of Jesus' body, preceded on the right by the Descent from the Cross, and succeeded on the left by the Burial of Jesus.

The wall was a temporary addition to support the arch above it, which had been weakened after the damage in the 1808 fire; it blocks the view of the rotunda, separates the entrance from the Catholicon, sits on top of the now-empty and desecrated graves of four 12th-century crusader kings—including Godfrey of Bouillon and Baldwin I of Jerusalem—and is no longer structurally necessary. There is a difference of opinion as to whether it is to be seen as the 13th Station of the Cross, which others identify as the lowering of Jesus from the cross and locate between the 11th and 12th stations on Calvary.

The lamps that hang over the Stone of Unction, adorned with cross-bearing chain links, are contributed by Armenians, Copts, Greeks and Latins.

Immediately to the left of the entrance is a bench that has traditionally been used by the church's Muslim doorkeepers, along with some Christian clergy, as well as electrical wiring. To the right of the entrance is a wall along the ambulatory containing, to the very right, the staircase leading to Golgotha. Further along the same wall is the entrance to the Chapel of Adam.

Rotunda and Aedicule






The Aedicule or edicule, the Latin diminutive of aedes, "house", meaning "small house" or "shrine"

The Rotunda is located in the centre of the Anastasis, beneath the larger of the church's two domes. In the center of the Rotunda is the chapel called the Aedicule, which contains the Holy Sepulchre itself. The Aedicule has two rooms, the first holding the Angel's Stone, which is believed to be a fragment of the large stone that sealed the tomb; the second is the tomb itself. Possibly due to the fact that pilgrims laid their hands on the tomb and/or to prevent eager pilgrims from removing bits of the original rock as souvenirs, a marble plaque was placed in the fourteenth century on the tomb to prevent further damage to the tomb.

Under the status quo, the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Apostolic Churches all have rights to the interior of the tomb, and all three communities celebrate the Divine Liturgy or Holy Mass there daily. It is also used for other ceremonies on special occasions, such as the Holy Saturday ceremony of the Holy Fire led by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch (with the participation of the Coptic and Armenian patriarchs). To its rear, in a chapel constructed of iron latticework upon a stone base semicircular in plan, lies the altar used by the Coptic Orthodox.[citation needed] Historically, the Georgians also retained the key to the Aedicule.

West of the Aedicule, to the rear of the Rotunda, is a chapel.

To the right of the Sepulchre on the northwestern edge of the Rotunda is the Chapel of the Apparition.










The "Christ Pantocrator" mosaic in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre


The Catholicon – On the east side opposite the Rotunda is the Crusader structure housing the main altar of the Church, today the Greek Orthodox catholicon. The second, smaller dome sits directly over the centre of the transept crossing of the choir where the compas, an omphalos once thought to be the center of the world (associated to the site of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection), is situated.


The "Holy Prison", or Prison of Christ

Prison of Christ – In the north-east side of the complex there is The Prison of Christ, alleged by the Franciscans to be where Jesus was held.

Status quo








The "Immovable Ladder". Detail from photograph of main entrance above the façade.

The Sultan's firman (decree) of 1853, known as the "status quo", pinned down the now permanent statutes of property and the regulations concerning the roles of the different denominations and other custodians.

The primary custodians are the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, and Roman Catholic Churches, with the Greek Orthodox Church having the lion's share. In the 19th century, the Coptic Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syriac Orthodox acquired lesser responsibilities, which include shrines and other structures in and around the building. Times and places of worship for each community are strictly regulated in common areas. The Greek Orthodox act through the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate as well as through the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre. The Roman Catholics act through the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

The establishment of the 1853 status quo did not halt controversy and sometimes violence, which continues to break out occasionally. On a hot summer day in 2002, a Coptic monk moved his chair from its agreed spot into the shade. This was interpreted as a hostile move by the Ethiopians, and eleven were hospitalized after the resulting fracas.

In another incident in 2004, during Orthodox celebrations of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a door to the Franciscan chapel was left open. This was taken as a sign of disrespect by the Orthodox and a fistfight broke out. Some people were arrested, but no one was seriously injured.

On Palm Sunday, in April 2008, a brawl broke out when a Greek monk was ejected from the building by a rival faction. Police were called to the scene but were also attacked by the enraged brawlers. On Sunday, 9 November 2008, a clash erupted between Armenian and Greek monks during celebrations for the Feast of the Cross.

A less grave sign of this state of affairs is located on a window ledge over the church's entrance. A wooden ladder was placed there at some time before 1852, when the status quo defined both the doors and the window ledges as common ground. This ladder, the "Immovable Ladder", in its latest incarnation, remains to this day, in almost exactly the same position it occupied in century-old photographs and engravings, as it must be replaced whenever it falls apart. An engraving by David Roberts in 1839 also shows the same ladder in the same position.

No one controls the main entrance. In 1192, Saladin assigned door-keeping responsibilities to the Muslim Nuseibeh family. The wooden doors that compose the main entrance are the original, highly carved doors. The Joudeh Al-Goudia family were entrusted as custodian to the keys of the Holy Sepulchre by Saladin in 1187.

Despite occasional disagreements, the religious services take place in the Church with regularity and coexistence is generally peaceful. An example of concord between the Church custodians is the recent (2016–17) full restoration of the Aedicule.











Tourists and pilgrims at one of the two access gates

to the Holy Sepulchre courtyard, photo by Bonfils, 1870s

The New Testament describes Jesus's tomb as being outside the city wall, as was normal for burials across the ancient world, which were regarded as unclean. Today, the site of the Church is within the current walls of the old city of Jerusalem. It has been well documented by archaeologists that in the time of Jesus, the walled city was smaller and the wall then was to the east of the current site of the Church. In other words, the city had been much narrower in Jesus' time, with the site then having been outside the walls; since Herod Agrippa (41–44) is recorded by history as extending the city to the north (beyond the present northern walls), the required repositioning of the western wall is traditionally attributed to him as well.

The church is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Old City of Jerusalem.


For Further reading:
Biddle, Martin (25 February 1999). The Tomb of Christ. Scarborough: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-1926-4.
Biddle, Martin; Seligman, Jon; Tamar, Winter & Avni, Gideon (7 July 2000). The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. New York: Rizzoli in cooperation with Israel Antiquities Authority, distributed by St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-8478-2282-6.
Coasnon, Charles (1974). The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. London: Oxford University Press for the British Academy. ISBN 0-19-725938-3.
Gibson, Shimon; Taylor, Joan E. (1994). Beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre Jerusalem: The archaeology and early history of traditional Golgotha. London: Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund. ISBN 0-903526-53-0.
bCohen, Raymond (10 March 2008). Saving the Holy Sepulchre: How Rival Christians Came Together to Rescue Their Holiest Shrine. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-518966-3. (Subscription required (help)).
Bowman, Glenn (16 September 2011). ""In Dubious Battle on the Plains of Heav'n": The Politics of Possession in Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre". University of Kent.
Weitzmann, Kurt, ed. (1979). Age of spirituality: late antique and early Christian art, third to seventh century. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 978-0870991790.

Franciscan Custody in the Holy Land (Roman Catholic custodians)
The Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre (Greek Orthodox custodians)
St. James Brotherhood (Armenian custodians)
The Joudeh Family (Muslim Custodian of the keys of the Holy Sepulchre)
Nuseibeh family (Muslim Holy Sepulchre Door Keepers)

Santa Costanza:Yr 354

Santa Costanza, Rome









View of the mausoleum of Santa Costanza and the remaining wall of the Constantinian basilica (photo taken from its apse).

Santa Costanza is a 4th-century church in Rome, Italy, on the Via Nomentana, which runs north-east out of the city. It is a round building with well preserved original layout and mosaics. 

It has been built adjacent to a horseshoe-shaped church, now in ruins, which has been identified as the initial 4th-century cemeterial basilica of Saint Agnes. (Note that the much later Church of St Agnes, still standing nearby, is distinct from the older ruined one.) Santa Costanza and the old Saint Agnes were both constructed over the earlier catacombs in which Saint Agnes is believed to be buried.

The mausoleum is of circular form with an ambulatory surrounding a central dome. The fabric of Santa Costanza survives in essentially its original form. 

Despite the loss of the coloured stone veneers of the walls, some damage to the mosaics and incorrect restoration, the building stands in excellent condition as a prime example of Early Christian art and architecture. 

The vaults of the apses and ambulatory display well preserved examples of Late Roman mosaics. A key component which is missing from the decorative scheme is the mosaic of the central dome. 
In the sixteenth-century, watercolours were made of this central dome so the pictorial scheme can be hypothetically reconstructed. The large porphyry sarcophagus of either Constantina or her sister Helena has survived intact, and is now in the Vatican Museum - an object of great significance to the study of the art of Late Antiquity.

Santa Costanza is a circular, centralized structure, with a circular ambulatory ringing a high central space topped by a shallow dome, which is raised on a round drum, as can be seen from the exterior. 

                                                                                     It is built of brick-faced concrete and its structure is basically                                                                                           two rings supported by columns placed around a vertical                                                                                                 central axis. The upper ring sits on the columns while the                                                                                                 "lower ring encloses a circular ambulatory whose space flows                                                                                         between the columns into the axial cylinder."

                                                                                     This design essentially creates two spaces or two worlds, that                                                                                         of the ambulatory and that of the upper dome. The screens of                                                                                         the ambulatory and inner ring create a dark contrast to the                                                                                              bright upper space of the dome. This contrast of light can be                                                                                           seen in the picture of the main interior. 

The single door, flanked by two arched niches, would originally have been an internal arch or doorway leading straight into the Constaninian basilica or funerary hall, half-way along its length. There is a short vestibule inside the door, opening to the ambulatory.

An arched arcade with twelve pairs of granite columns decorated with composite capitals supports the drum below the dome, and separates the area of the ambulatory beyond, which is much darker, as light from twelve windows in the clerestory does not reach this area as well. In contrast the central area is well-lit, creating interplay between dark and light in the interior.

The number of arches, pairs of columns and windows could be a reference to the Twelve Apostles.

                                                                                      Mosaics in the apses
                                                                                      One of the apses shows a traditio legis: Christ is shown with                                                                                            Saints Peter and Paul giving Peter the scroll representing law,                                                                                          with the inscription, "DOMINUS PACEM DAT," or "The Lord is                                                                                            giving Peace." A few sheep represent his role as shepherd                                                                                                governing and leading his flock. Christ is clothed in golden                                                                                                robes, suggesting his power and supremacy. He is shown rising                                                                            above paradise, which further shows his dominance over both                                                                                        heaven and earth.

Interior view.










The mosaics of the ambulatory vault and the paired columns          Mosaic with the Traditio Legis

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Santa Sabina: Yrs 422-432


The Basilica of Saint Sabina  is a historic church on the Aventine Hill in Rome, Italy. It is a titular minor basilica and mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Preachers, better known as the Dominicans. Santa Sabina is perched high above the Tiber river to the north and the Circus Maximus to the east. It is next to the small public park of Giardino degli Aranci ("Garden of Oranges"), which has a scenic terrace overlooking Rome. 

Depiction of the crucifixion on the wooden door of Santa Sabina. This is one of the earliest surviving depiction of the crucifixion of Christ.

Santa Sabina is the oldest extant Roman basilica in Rome that preserves its original colonnaded rectangular plan and architectural style. Its decorations have been restored to their original restrained design. 


Because of its simplicity, the Santa Sabina represents the crossover from a roofed Roman forum to the churches of Christendom. It is especially famous for its 5th-century carved wood doors, with a cycle of Christian scenes (18 now remaining) that is one of the earliest to survive.

The exterior of the church, with its large windows made of selenite, not glass, looks much as it did when it was built in the 5th century.

The wooden door of the basilica is generally agreed to be the original door from 430–432, although it was apparently not constructed for this doorway. Eighteen of its wooden panels survive — all but one depicting scenes from the Bible. Most famous among these is one of the earliest certain depictions of Christ's crucifixion, although other panels have also been the subjects of extensive analysis because of their importance for the study of Christian iconography.

Above the doorway, the interior preserves an original dedication in Latin hexameters.
The campanile (bell tower) dates from the 10th century.

The doors on the exterior of Santa Sabina are made of cypress wood, and originally had a layout of twenty-eight panels. Out of these panels, ten of the original have been lost, and are left without ornamentation.


Seventeen out of the original remaining eighteen panels depict a scene from the Old Testament or the New Testament, leaving one panel that does not directly correlate to a Biblical story This panel, found near the bottom of the door, depicts an homage to a man wearing a chlamys, and is thought to depict a historical event relating to a powerful ruler, though the exact story depicted is unknown.


One of the smaller top panels depicts the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and two other figures in front of a building that alludes to the architecture of a Roman mausoleum; this panel is the first known publicly displayed image of the crucifixion of Christ.


The panels are carved in two distinct styles, one including more detail and adherence to the style of classical art, and one adopting a simpler style, indicating that several artists may have worked on the doors. The abstract vegetal designs on the panels' frames are consistent with a Mesopotamian style, suggesting the origin of at least one of the artists was from this region.

Due to the cramped composition of the panels and the thin outer frame, it is likely that the door was originally bigger, then cut down to fit into the frame of Santa Sabina. This makes it unclear as to whether the door was initially intended to be used for this specific structure; it may have been designed for a different Roman building with larger doorway dimensions, but then been transferred to Santa Sabina for unknown reasons.


However, the door was most likely constructed near the same time as the erection of the Church of Santa Sabina in 432, as the powerful figure in the chlamys scene carving shares stylistic similarities with depictions of Theodosius II, the emperor at the time of the consecration of Santa Sabina. Dendrochronologic and radiocarbon dating confirmed that the wood used for the door panels is from the beginning of the 5th century, therefore the carvings could date from the reigns of Celestine I (421–431) or Sixtus III (431–440).
















    The Doors.                                                               Apse and triumphal arch.                        Interior.


The original fifth-century apse mosaic was replaced in 1559 by a very similar fresco by Taddeo Zuccari. The composition probably remained unchanged: Christ is flanked by a good thief and a bad thief, seated on a hill while lambs drink from a stream at its base.


St. Mary Major:

Yr 432

Santa Maria Maggiore




Façade of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore facing the Piazza

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore,  Basilica of Saint Mary Major, Latin: Basilica Sanctae Mariae Maioris), or church of Santa Maria Maggiore, is a Papal major basilica and the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome, Italy.
The basilica enshrines the venerated image of Salus Populi Romani, depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary as the help and protectress of the Roman people, which was granted a Canonical coronation by Pope Gregory XVI on 15 August 1838 accompanied by his Papal bull Cælestis Regina.


Pursuant to the Lateran Treaty of 1929 between the Holy See and Italy, the Basilica is within Italian territory and not the territory of the Vatican City State. However, the Holy See fully owns the Basilica, and Italy is legally obligated to recognize its full ownership thereof and to concede to it "the immunity granted by International Law to the headquarters of the diplomatic agents of foreign States."


The Basilica is sometimes referred to as Our Lady of the Snows.




August 5: Our Lady of the Snows

["Improbable as it is for snow to fall during August, history tells of a snowfall that seemed more impossible, namely in Rome, Italy. August 5, 352, snow fell during the night in Rome.

There lived in the Eternal City a nobleman, John and his childless wife, who had been blessed with much of this world’s goods. They chose the Mother of God as the heir to their fortune, and at the suggestion of Pope Liberius, prayed that she might make known to them how to do this by a particular sign.

In answer, the Virgin Mother during the night of August 5, appeared to John and his wife and also to the Holy Father, Pope Liberius, directing them to build a church in her honor on the crown of the Esquiline Hill. And what would be the sign that John and his wife had requested?

“Snow will cover the crest of the hill.”

Snow rarely falls in Rome, but the flakes fell silently during that night, blanketing the peak of the historic hill. In the morning the news quickly spread and crowds gathered to throng up the hill and behold the white splendor. The snow had fallen in a particular pattern, showing the outline of the future church. When it became known that the snow was a sign from Mary, the people spontaneously added another to her long list of titles, Our Lady of the Snows."]




Detail of the external façade of the apse on the north-west of the church on Piazza dell'Esquilino

The original architecture of Santa Maria Maggiore was classical and traditionally Roman perhaps to convey the idea that Santa Maria Maggiore represented old imperial Rome as well as its Christian future. As one scholar puts it, "Santa Maria Maggiore so closely resembles a second-century imperial basilica that it has sometimes been thought to have been adapted from a basilica for use as a Christian church. Its plan was based on Hellenistic principles stated by Vitruvius at the time of Augustus."

Even though Santa Maria Maggiore is immense in its area, it was built to plan. The design of the basilica was a typical one during this time in Rome: "a tall and wide nave; an aisle on either side; and a semicircular apse at the end of the nave." The key aspect that made Santa Maria Maggiore such a significant cornerstone in church building during the early 5th century were the beautiful mosaics found on the triumphal arch and nave.


The Athenian marble columns supporting the nave are even older, and either come from the first basilica, or from another antique Roman building; thirty-six are marble and four granite, pared down, or shortened to make them identical by Ferdinando Fuga, who provided them with identical gilt-bronze capitals. 

The 14th century campanile, or bell tower, is the highest in Rome, at 246 feet, (about 75 m.). The basilica's 16th-century coffered ceiling, to a design by Giuliano da Sangallo, is said to be gilded with gold, initially brought by Christopher Columbus, presented by Ferdinand and Isabella to the Spanish pope, Alexander VI. 

The apse mosaic, the Coronation of the Virgin, is from 1295, signed by the Franciscan friar, Jacopo Torriti. The Basilica also contains frescoes by Giovanni Baglione, in the Cappella Borghese.

The wing of the canonica (sacristy) to its left and a matching wing to the right (designed by Flaminio Ponzio) give the basilica's front the aspect of a palace facing the Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore. To the right of the Basilica's façade is a memorial representing a column in the form of an up-ended cannon barrel topped with a cross: it was erected by Pope Clement VIII to celebrate the end of the French Wars of Religion.












Interior of the basilica: view down the nave towards the high altar

Fifth century mosaics

The mosaics found in Santa Maria Maggiore are one of the oldest representations of the Virgin Mary in Christian Late Antiquity. As one scholar puts it, "This is well demonstrated by the decoration of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome,... where the iconographic depiction of the Virgin Mary was chosen at least in part to celebrate the affirmation of Mary as Theotokos (bearer of God) by the third ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 CE." 

The mosaics of the triumphal arch and the nave in Santa Maria Maggiore were the definition of impressionistic art during the time period and gave a model for the future representations of the Virgin Mary. 

The influences of these mosaics are rooted in late antique impressionism that could be seen in frescoes, manuscript paintings and many pavement mosaics across villas in Africa, Syria and Sicily during the 5th century.

These mosaics gave historians insight into artistic, religious, and social movements during this time. As Margaret Miles explains the mosaics in Santa Maria Maggiore have two goals: one to glorify the Virgin Mary as Theotokos (God-Bearer); and the other to present "a systematic and comprehensive articulation of the relationship of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian scriptures as one in which the Hebrew Bible foreshadows Christianity." 

This is explained by the dual images of Old Testament and New Testament events depicted in the mosaics of the triumphal arch and the nave. The mosaics also show the range of artistic expertise and refute the theory that mosaic technique during the time was based on copying from model books. 
The mosaics found in Santa Maria Maggiore are combinations of different styles of mosaic art during the time, according to art scholar Robin Cormack: "the range of artistic expertise and the actual complexities of production can hardly be reduced to a mentality of copying. A test case is given by the mosaics of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome".

Triumphal arch

The triumphal arch at the head of the nave was at first referred to as the apse arch, but later became known as the triumphal arch. The triumphal arch is illustrated with magnificent mosaics depicting different scenes of Christ and the Virgin Mary.


There was a difference in the styles used in the triumphal arch mosaics compared to those of the nave; the style of the triumphal arch was much more linear and flat as one scholar describes it, not nearly as much action, emotion and movement in them as there were in the Old Testament mosaics of the nave.


One of the first scenes that were visible on the triumphal arch was a panel of Christ's enthronement with a group of angels as his court. As one historian describes it: "On the apse arch Christ is enthroned, a young emperor attended by four chamberlains, angels of course", this is a perfect example of mosaic art in the 5th century.


Another panel found on the triumphal arch is of the Virgin, she is crowned and dressed in a colorful veil, her wardrobe subtly brings to mind that of a Roman empress and in this panel she has her divine son walking with her and a suite of angels and Joseph ready to greet her.


Another panel is known as the Adoration of the Magi and this mosaic depicts Infant Christ and The Virgin and the arrival of the three wise men, "mosaics illustrating Christ's first coming and his youth covered the triumphal arch." The other panel depicts the Virgin accompanied by five martyrs.


The nave of the basilica was covered in mosaics representing Old Testament events of Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt across the Red Sea. "The nave mosaics (which represents stories of Old Testament history and accordingly offered Christians in Rome a new 'past') are illusionistic in a colorful and impressionist manner" as this scholar puts it the scene was filled with movement, emotion.

Crypt of the Nativity and Cappella Sistina











Reliquary of the Holy Crib

Crypt of the Nativity and Cappella Sistina
Under the high altar of the basilica is the Crypt of the Nativity or Bethlehem Crypt, with a crystal reliquary designed by Giuseppe Valadier said to contain wood from the Holy Crib of the nativity of Jesus Christ. Here is the burial place of Saint Jerome, the 4th-century Doctor of the Church who translated the Bible into the Latin language (the Vulgate).