Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

avatar

Church Architecture Styles: Byzantine

September 11th, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

The architectural form of the dome and centrally oriented ground plan became major characteristics of the Byzantine style. Constantine had moved his capital from Rome to the fairly small city of Byzantium1 in the eastern half of the empire in 324 where he had churches built according to the traditional Roman basilica style. But, one, the Church of the Holy Apostles, was constructed with two basilicas or halls (without side aisles) crossing each other forming a Greek cross layout. In addition, domes are thought to have covered the crossing space and the four arms of the cross. Constantine actually intended the structure to be his mausoleum and had his tomb positioned under the center dome. The altar was, presumably,  in the apse. The Church of the Holy Apostles was much celebrated and copied throughout the Roman Empire but most especially in the eastern provinces.

Greek Cross Plan possibly used in Constantine's "Church of the Holy Apostles" in Constantinople, 4th century

Fig. 1 – Greek Cross Plan with domes possibly used in Constantine’s “Church of the Holy Apostles” in Constantinople, 4th century. The horizontal arms are called ‘transepts’.

High domes over the center of the naves of churches interrupt the horizontal movement to the altar in the traditional basilica and introduce a vertical element. The dome began to symbolize heaven and the ground level, earth. Imagery in the dome and on the walls reflected this hierarchical order.

"Church of the Holy Wisdom" ("Hagia Sophia"), built by the Emperor Justinian I, 6th century.

Fig. 2 -“Church of the Holy Wisdom” (“Hagia Sophia”), built by the Emperor Justinian I, 6th century. Justinian’s ambitious building campaign of dome covered cross planned churches signaled the start of the ‘Byzantine” style.

IMG_4525

Fig. 3 -The high placed domes over the center of the nave in Byzantine style churches introduces a strong vertical element. At the top of the dome is an image of God the Almighty Ruler of the Universe looking down from heaven. Saints occupy the intermediate zones between the highest heavens and earth, the floor level of the building, because they intercede between heaven and earth.

Basic ground plan of a Byzantine style church. This building employs only one dome. Altars continued to be placed at the chord of the apse. Clergy continued to sit along the curved wall of the apse.

Fig. 4 -Basic ground plan of a Byzantine style church. This building employs only one dome. Altars continued to be placed at the chord of the apse. Clergy continued to sit along the curved wall of the apse.

There are several variations of the centrally planned Byzantine style, the most common being the ‘cross in square’ plan.

Cross in square plane. The arms of the cross are raised higher that the corners of the square and the dome, higher yet. The dome would be sitting on a cylindrical 'drum' to raised it higher. The drum served as a clerestory, punctured with windows.

Fig. 5 -Cross in square plan. The arms of the cross are raised higher than the corners of the square, and the dome was raised even higher. The dome would be sitting on a cylindrical ‘drum’ to raise it. The drum served as a clerestory wall and so was punctured with windows. The red line in this diagram indicates a chancel railing or windowed screen (“Templon’) that reserved the altar end of the building for clergy. The ‘Prothesis’ apse was where the bread and wine were prepared for the Eucharistic liturgy.  The ‘Diaconicon’ was for the storage of liturgical books, vestments, vessels, etc.

1280px-Orthodox_church_in_Athens

Fig. 6 -This Byzantine style church in Athens, Greece, has only one dome and is laid out in a Greek Cross plan. The transepts also end in apses. Notice the vertical nature of the windows and the ‘banded brick’ pattern of the exterior of the drum. Both are characteristics of the Byzantine style.

mystras_pantanassa-mosaics1

Fig. 7 -Looking toward the apse. An Iconostasis screen shields the chancel/altar area. Iconostasis screens did not appear until ca. 1000 or even later. Notice the abundance of imagery common in Byzantine and Orthodox churches. The program of imagery (in mosaic and/or fresco) in Byzantine churches is thought to have been introduced in a palace chapel in Constantinople during the reign of Justinian I.

Overall, embellishments and decorative elements in Byzantine churches betray eastern or oriental (think Persian and Arabic) influences as Byzantium (Constantinople, now Istanbul) was/is on the border between Europe and Asia. Such designs emphasized splendor, complexity, both organic and geometric pattern and color. The classical Greek and Roman forms of arch, dome, and columns merged in the Byzantine style with eastern design elements.

IMG_4311

Fig. 8 -Here the classical Greek and Roman Ionic capital has been altered by a pattern of intricately carved leaf forms, betraying eastern influences.

IMG_4307

Fig. 9 -It is hard to detect any classical Greek and Roman elements in this Byzantine capital except for perhaps the scroll like forms at the bottom. This is thoroughly eastern in appearance. These flat intricately carved capitals are sometimes called ‘basket capitals’.

web IMG_20140910_0003

Fig 10 San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy, 526-47. Mosaics above and veined marble columns and walls below are characteristics of the Byzantine style.

7-12

Fig 11 A chancel railing or ‘templon’ screen (as in this illustration) marked the border between the holiest part of the church and the nave in the Byzantine style. The ‘chancel’ area included the altar and apse and was reserved for the clergy. The church represented in this illustration also has a type of ‘solea’ or walled walkway for the clergy to process to the ‘ambo’ for the scripture readings. The ‘ambo’ is the raised platform. There were no seats. The congregation stood the whole time.

Many regional variations in the Byzantine style developed as Christianity spread into Russia and other regions.

800px-Moscow_July_2011-4a

Fig 12 Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow. A totally unique expression within the Byzantine tradition.

"National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception", Washington D.C., 20th century

Fig. 13 “National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception”, Washington D.C., 20th century. Byzantine Revival Style

Fig. 14 "National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception", Washington D.C., 20th century. Byzantine Revival Style. In addition, the dome is meant to echo the dome of the U.S. Capitol building and the tower mimics the Washington Monument.

Fig. 14 “National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception”, Washington D.C., 20th century. Byzantine Revival Style. In addition, the dome is meant to echo the dome of the U.S. Capitol building and the tower mimics the Washington Monument.

Do you know of any Byzantine style churches in your area? There are several in the Rochester area. What characteristics would you look for?

……………………………………..

1 The term ‘Byzantine’ is derived from the name of the city of Byzantium. Constantine renamed his new capital ‘New Rome’.  After his death it was named ‘Constantinople’.  The Ottomans changed the name to ‘Istanbul” after their conquest of the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century.

……………………………………..

Photo Sources:

Fig.1 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFloor_plan_of_the_former_Church_of_the_Holy_Apostles.jpg By Apostoleion.jpg: Agur derivative work: Arnaugir (Apostoleion.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Fig. 3 Bernie Dick

Fig. 4 Bernie Dick

Fig. 5 Bernie Dick

Fig. 8 Bernie Dick

Fig. 9 Bernie Dick

Fig. 7 http://traveller-through-an-antique-land.blogspot.com/2011/06/mistra.html

Fig. 12 “Moscow July 2011-4a” by Alvesgaspar – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Moscow_July_2011-4a.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Moscow_July_2011-4a.jpg

Fig 13 “Basilica National Shrine Immaculate Conception DC 34” by Gryffindor – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Basilica_National_Shrine_Immaculate_Conception_DC_34.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Basilica_National_Shrine_Immaculate_Conception_DC_34.JPG Fig.

Fig. 14 http://www.thecatholictravelguide.com/NationalShrineoftheImmaculateConception.html

Tags: , ,

|

Comments are closed.


-Return to main page-