Early Christian Architecture
Presented by:-Arshad Nafees
The Early Christian architecture started in two prominent locations
centered at Rome and Constantinople.
•Early Christian Architecture occurred in Rome and in areas around Rome.
•From the two focal points Early Christian Architecture spread to other
areas in the European and Asian region.
The following is a time line of events for the Early Christian period:•29 A.D. Passing of Isa(AS) and beginning of Christian Religion.
•286 A.D. Emperor Diocletian reorganizes the Roman Empire splitting it
into two; the Eastern and the Western part.
•313 A.D. Emperor Constantine recognizes the Christian religion and
adopts it as a state religion.
•324 A.D. Emperor Constantine reunited the Roman Empire with a new
•364 A.D. Rome finally splits into two; the Western and Eastern Empire.
Social Characteristics & Beliefs….
•The single most important social phenomenon of the Early Christian period
was the spread and acceptance of the Christian religion.
•During the period from the first century to the third century after the death
of Jesus, Christianity was a secret society.
•It was considered dangerous and subversive by the government Christians
met secretly in tombs and private houses.
•Gradually, however, it spread and became widely accepted in Asia minor and
in Rome itself.
•By the third century, Rome had a population of 50,000 Christians.
•The religion was tolerated but it was still illegal.
• With Christianity widely accepted as a state religion in Rome it was
necessary for architecture to respond to the demands of the religion for
• Mode of worship was the most important determinant of the form of the
The requirements include:A path for processional entry and exit of the clergy
An altar area, where the clergy celebrate mass
A space for the segregation of the clergy from the congregation during
procession and communion
The term early Christian architecture refers to the architecture of the early
Christian churches of the roman era
•This is further divided into two types; the basilica church and the alternative
•With Christianity accepted as a state religion in Rome and expanding in
influence, it became necessary for architecture to respond to the space
demands of the new religion.
•A building used for Christian worship had to provide a path for the
processional entry and exit of the clergy, an alter area, where the clergy
celebrated mass, a space for the segregation of the clergy from congregation
during the procession and communion.
Basilica Church Type
• The early churches were generally simple and functional in their design.
• The emphasis was centered on the act of Christian worship.
• The architecture of the church that developed was not a completely new style,
but the use of available Roman forms to satisfy a new program need.
• The form chosen for the early church was the Roman basilica.
• It was suitable for use as a church with no serious modification and it could be
easily and rapidly built at low cost.
• The Basilica was also preferred because of the emphasis on participation in
• The most common form of the early churches had a rectangular hall with a
timber trussed roof.
• It also had one or two isles on each side of a central nave and an apse at one
end facing the principal entrance located at the other end.
S. Giovanni in Laterano (AD 313-320)
• A typical example of the early Christian
church is S. Giovanni in Laterano
• It was the first church commission by
• It was built as the Cathedral of the
Bishop of Rome
• It was remodeled several times.
• The church consists of a central nave
flanked by two narrow isles and
• The central nave rose above the isle
roof, and the inner isle rose above the
• The nave terminated at an apse.
• The structure was of brick faced
concrete covered with simple trussedtimber roof.
S. Peters, Rome (AD 333)
• St Peter was the most important
of the basilica churches built by
• The church has a triple entrance
gate leading to an atrium.
• The church like S. Giovanni
discussed earlier is a five isles
• The Basilica had a wooden roof
of interlocking rafters.
• The nave did not lead directly to
the apse but instead ends in a
transverse space that is as high
as the nave.
Alternative Church Form
The rectangular basilica was not the only form adopted for the early church
•Alternative more centralized plans, with a focus on a central vertical axis
rather than a longitudinal horizontal one were also adopted occasionally.
•The centralized churches were of two broad types.
•There were the completely circular church.
•These had a circular or octagonal space surrounded by an ambulatory
Examples of these include Saint ConstanzaRome, the lateran Baptistery
Rome and Saint Stefano Rotondo.
Baptistery Church Form
The Baptistery of Constantine, Rome (A.D. 430–440) built near the Lateran Church
by Sixtus III, and not by Constantine to whom it is generally attributed, is among the
oldest of Italian baptisteries, of which it was probably the model.
•It is octagonal in shape according to plan.
• The roof is supported by a two-storeyed ring of eight porphyry and marble
columns taken from old pagan buildings, while in the centre is an old Roman bath of
green basalt converted into a font.
Round Alternative Form (St Constanza)
•This was a church originally designed as a
mausoleum for Emperor Constantine’s daughter.
•It was designed as a centralized monument.
•It is symmetrical in plan with a domed central
•The domed central space was ringed by an
arcade with 12 pairs of double colonnade.
•Beyond the arcade is an encircling ambulatory.
•A barrel vault is used to roof the ambulatory.