1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Basilica (building)
BASILICA, a word of Greek origin (see below), frequently used in Latin literature and inscriptions to denote a large covered building that could accommodate a considerable number of people. Strictly speaking, a basilica was a building of this kind situated near the business centre of a city and arranged for the convenience of merchants, litigants and persons engaged on the public service; but in a derived sense the word might be used for any large structure wherever situated, such as a hall of audience (Vitruv. vi. 5. 2) or a covered promenade (St Jerome, Ep. 46) in a private palace; a riding school (basilica equestris exercitatoria, C.I.L. vii. 965); a market or store for flowers (basilica floscellaria [Notitia]), or other kinds of goods (basilica vestiaria, C.I.L. viii. 20156), or a hall of meeting for a religious body. In this derived sense the word came naturally to be applied to the extensive buildings used for Christian worship in the age of Constantine and his successors.
The question whether this word conveyed to the ancients any special architectural significance is a difficult one, and some writers hold that the name betokened only the use of the building, others that it suggested also a certain form. Our knowledge of the ancient basilica as a civil structure is derived primarily from Vitruvius, and we learn about it also from existing remains and from incidental notices in classical writers and in inscriptions. If we review all the evidence we are led to the conclusion that there did exist a normal form of the building, though many examples deviated therefrom. This normal form we shall understand if we consider the essential character of the building in the light of what Vitruvius tells us of it.
Vitruvius treats the basilica in close connexion with the forum, to which in his view it is an adjunct. In the earlier classical times, both in Greece and Italy, business of every kind, political, commercial and legal, was transacted in the open forum, and there also were presented shows and pageants. When business increased and the numbers of the population were multiplied, it was found convenient to provide additional accommodation for these purposes. Theatres and amphitheatres took the performances and games. Markets provided for those that bought and sold, while for business of more important kinds accommodation could be secured by laying out new agorae or fora in the immediate vicinity of the old. At Rome this was done by means of the so-called imperial fora, the latest and most splendid of which was that of Trajan. These fora corresponded to the later Greek or Hellenistic agora, which, as Vitruvius tells us, was of regular form and surrounded by colonnades in two stories, and they had the practical use of relieving the pressure on the original forum (Cic., ad Att., iv. 16). The basilica was a structure intended for the same purposes. It was to all intents and purposes a covered forum, and in its normal form was constituted by an arrangement of colonnades in two stories round a rectangular space, that was not, like the Greek agora, open, but covered with a roof. Vitruvius writes of it as frequented by merchants, who would find in it shelter and quiet for the transaction of their business. Legal tribunals were also set up in it, though it is a mistake to suppose the basilica a mere law court. The magistrates who presided over these tribunals had sometimes platforms, curved or rectangular in plan, provided as part of the permanent fittings of the edifice.
According to Vitruvius (v. 1. 4, cf. also vi. 3. 9) the building is to be in plan a rectangle, not more than three times nor less than twice as long as it is broad. If the site oblige the length to be greater, the surplus is to be cut off to form what he calls chalcidica, by which must be meant open vestibules. The interior is divided into a central space and side aisles one-third the width of this. The ground plan of the basilica at Pompeii (fig. 1) illustrates this description, though the superstructure did not correspond to the Vitruvian scheme. The columns between nave and aisles, Vitruvius proceeds, are the same height as the width of the latter, and the aisle is covered with a flat roof forming a terrace (contignatio) on which people can walk. Surrounding this on the inner side is a breastwork or parapet (pluteum), which would conceal these promenaders from the view of the merchants in the basilica below. On the top of this parapet stood the upper row of columns, three-quarters as high as the lower ones. The spaces between these columns, above the top of the pluteum, would be left free for the admission of light to the central space, which was covered by a roof called by Vitruvius (v. 1. 6) mediana testudo. Nothing is said about a permanent tribunal or about an apse.
|Fig. 1.—Basilica at Pompeii. 1, Portico (Chalcidicum);
2, hall of basilica; 3, aisles; 4, altar; 5, tribunal; 6, offices.
How far existing remains agree with the Vitruvian scheme will be seen as we proceed. We have now to consider the derivation of the word "basilica," the history of the form of building, and its architectural scheme as represented in actual relics.
The word "basilica" is a Latinized form of the Greek adjective βασιλική, "royal," and some feminine substantive, such as domus, or stoa, must be understood with it. A certain building at Athens, wherein the ἄρχων βασιλεύς transacted business and the court of the Areopagus sometimes assembled, was called βασίλειος στοά, and it is an accredited theory, though it is by no means proved, that we have here the origin of the later basilica. It is difficult to see why this was called "royal" except for some special but accidental reason such as can in this case be divined. There are other instances in which a term that becomes specific has been derived from some one specimen accidentally named. "Labyrinth" is one case in point, and "basilica" may be another. It is true that we do not know what was the shape of the King Archon's portico, but the same name (βασίλειος στοά) was given to the grand structure erected by Herod the Great along the southern edge of the Temple platform at Jerusalem, and this corresponded to the Vitruvian scheme of a columned fabric, with nave and aisles and clerestory lighting.
Whether the Roman basilicas, with which we are chiefly concerned, were derived directly from the Athenian example, or mediately from this through structures of the same kind erected in the later Greek cities, is hard to say. We should naturally look in that direction for the prototypes of the Roman basilicas, but as a fact we are not informed of any very early basilicas in these cities. The earliest we know of is the existing basilica at Pompeii, that may date back into the 2nd century B.C., whereas basilicas made their appearance at Rome nearly at the beginning of that century. The first was erected by M. Porcius Cato, the censor, in 184 B.C., and was called after his name Basilica Porcia. Cato had recently visited Athens and had been struck by the beauty of the city, so that it is quite possible that the importation was direct.
|Fig. 2.—Plan of Basilica Julia, Rome.
(From Baedeker's Central Italy, by permission of Karl Baedeker.)
|Fig. 3.—Plan of Basilica Ulpia, from Capitoline plan of Rome.|
Rome soon obtained other basilicas, of which the important Basilica Fulvia-Aemilia came next in point of time, till by the age of Augustus there were at least five in the immediate neighbourhood of the forum, the latest and most extensive being the Basilica Julia, which ran parallel to its southern side, and is shown in plan in fig. 2. The great Basilica Ulpia was built by Trajan in connexion with his forum about A.D. 112, and a fragment of the Capitoline plan of Rome gives the scheme of it (fig. 3), while an attempted restoration of the interior by Canina is shown in fig. 4. The vaulted basilica of Maxentius or Constantine on the Via Sacra dates from the beginning of the 4th century, and fig. 5 gives the section of it. The number of public basilicas we read of at Rome alone amounts to about a score, while many private basilicas, for business or recreation, must also have existed, that in the palace of Domitian on the Palatine being the best known. In provincial cities in Italy, and indeed all over the empire, basilicas were almost universal, and in the case of Italy we have proof of this as early as the date of the death of Augustus, for Suetonius (Aug. 100) tells us that the body of that emperor, when it was brought from Nola in Campania to Rome, rested "in basilica cujusque oppidi."
|Fig. 4.—Interior view of Trajan's Basilica (Basilica Ulpia), as restored by Canina.|
As regards existing examples, neither in the peninsula nor the provinces can it be said that these give any adequate idea of the former abundance and wide distribution of basilicas. Northern Africa contributes one or two examples, and a plan is given of that at Timgad (fig. 6). The Gallic basilicas, which must have been very numerous, are represented only by the noble structure at Trier (Trèves), which is now a single vast hall 180 ft. long, 90 ft. wide and 100 ft. high, commanded at one end by a spacious apse. There is reason to conjecture that this is the basilica erected by Constantine, and some authorities believe that originally it had internal colonnades. In England basilicas remain in part at Silchester (fig. 7), Uriconium (Wroxeter), Chester (?) and Lincoln, while three others are mentioned in inscriptions (C.I.L. vii. 287, 445, 965).
A comparison of the plans of existing basilicas shows considerable variety in form. Some basilicas (Julia, Ulpia, Pompeii) have the central space surrounded by galleries supported on columns or piers, according to the normal scheme, and the newly excavated Basilica Aemilia, north of the Roman forum, agrees with these. In some North African examples, in the palace basilica of Domitian, and at Silchester, there are colonnades down the long sides but not across the ends. Others (Trier [?], Timgad) have no interior divisions. One (Maxentius) is entirely a vaulted structure and in form resembles the great halls of the Roman Thermae. At Pompeii, Timgad and Silchester, there are fixed tribunals, while vaulted apses that may have contained tribunals occur in the basilica of Maxentius. In the Basilica Julia there was no tribunal at all, though we know that the building was regularly used for the centumviral court (Quint. xii. 5. 6), and the same was the case in the Ulpia, for the semicircular projection at the end shown on the Capitoline-plan, was not a vaulted apse and was evidently distinct from the basilica.
|Fig. 5.—Section of the Basilica of Maxentius or Constantine
(Temple of Peace).
In view of the above it might be questioned whether it is safe to speak of a normal form of the basilica, but when we consider the vast number of basilicas that have perished compared to the few that have survived, and the fact that the origins and traditions of the building show it to have been, as Vitruvius describes it, essentially a columned structure, there is ample justification for the view expressed earlier in this article. There can be little doubt that the earlier basilicas, and the majority of basilicas taken as a whole, had a central space with galleries, generally in two stories, round it, and some arrangement for clerestory lighting. Later basilicas might vary in architectural scheme, while affording the same sort of accommodation as the older ones.
The relation of the civil basilica of the Romans to the Christian church has been extensively discussed, and the reader will find the controversy ably summarized in Kraus's Geschichte der christlichen Kunst, bk. 5. There is nothing remarkable in the fact that a large church was called a basilica, for the term was applied, as we have seen, to structures of many kinds, and we even find "basilica" used for the meeting-place of a pagan religious association (Röm. Mitt. 1891, p. 109). The similarity in some respects of the early Christian churches to the normal form of the columned basilica is so striking, that we can understand how the theory was once held that Christian churches were the actual civil basilicas turned over from secular to religious uses. There is no evidence for this in the case of public basilicas, and it stands to reason that the demands on these for secular purposes would remain the same whether Christianity were the religion of the empire or not. Moreover, though there are one or two civil basilicas that resemble churches, the latter differ in some most important respects from the form of the basilica that we have recognized as normal. The early Christian basilicas, at any rate in the west, had very seldom, if ever, galleries over the side aisles, and their interior is always dominated by the semi-dome of an apse that terminates the central nave, whereas, with the doubtful exception of Silchester (Archaeologia, liii. 549), there is no instance known of a vaulted apse in a columned civil basilica of the normal kind.
|Fig. 6.—Plan of Basilica adjoining the
Forum of the Roman city of Timgad,
in North Africa.
(From Gsell's Monuments antiques de
l'Algerie, by permission of A. Fontemoing.)
When buildings were first expressly erected for Christian worship, in the 3rd or perhaps already in the 2nd century A.D. (Leclercq, Manuel, ch. iii. "Les édifices chrétiens avant la paix de l'église"), they probably took the form of an oblong interior terminated by an apse. After the time of Constantine, when the numbers of the faithful were enormously increased, side aisles were added, and in this way the structure came to assume an appearance similar to that of the civil basilica. A striking confirmation of this view has recently come to light at S. Saba on the Aventine at Rome, where a small and very early church, without aisles, has been discovered beneath the floor of the present basilica.
There are, on the other hand, instances in which private basilicas in palaces and mansions were handed over to the Christians for sacred uses. We know that to have been the case with the basilicas of S. Croce in Gerusalemme and S. Maria Maggiore at Rome, which originated in the halls of the Sessorian and Liberian palaces respectively, granted by Constantine to the Christians. We may adduce also as evidence of the same practice a passage in bk. x. ch. 71 of the theological romance known as The Recognitions of Clement, probably dating from the early half of the 3rd century, in which we are told that Theophilus of Antioch, on his conversion by St Peter, made over "the basilica of his house" for a church. But however this may have been, with, perhaps, the single exception of S. Croce, the existing Christian basilicas were erected from the ground for their sacred purpose. At Rome the columns, friezes and other materials of the desecrated temples and public buildings furnished abundant materials for their construction. The decadence of art is plainly shown by the absence of rudimentary architectural knowledge in these reconstructions. Not only are columns of various heights and diameters made to do duty in the same colonnade, but even different orders stand side by side (e.g. Ionic, Corinthian and Composite at S. Maria in Trastevere); while pilasters assume a horizontal position and serve as entablatures, as at S. Lorenzo fuori le Mura. There being no such quarry of ready-worked materials at Ravenna, the noble basilicas of that city are free from these defects, and exhibit greater unity of design and harmony of proportions.
|Fig. 7.—Plan of Basilica adjoining the Forum of the Roman
city at Silchester, Hants.
(From Archaeologia, vol. liii.)
An early Christian basilica may be thus described in its main features:—A porch supported on pillars (as at S. Clemente) gave admission into an open court or atrium, surrounded by a colonnaded cloister (S. Clemente, Old St Peter's, S. Ambrogio at Milan, Parenzo). In the centre of the court stood a cistern or fountain (cantharus, phiale), for drinking and ablutions. In close contiguity to the atrium, often to the west, was the baptistery, usually octagonal (Parenzo). The church was entered through a long narrow porch (narthex), beyond which penitents, or those under ecclesiastical censure, were forbidden to pass. Three or more lofty doorways, according to the number of the aisles, set in marble cases, gave admission to the church. The doors themselves were of rich wood, elaborately carved with scriptural subjects (S. Sabina on the Aventine), or of bronze similarly adorned and often gilt. Magnificent curtains, frequently embroidered with sacred figures or scenes, closed the entrance, keeping out the heat of summer and the cold of winter.
The interior consisted of a long and wide nave, sometimes as much as 80 ft. across, terminating in a semicircular apse, with one or sometimes (St Paul's, Old St Peter's, St John Lateran) two aisles on each side, separated by colonnades of marble pillars supporting horizontal entablatures (Old St Peter's, S. Maria Maggiore, S. Lorenzo) or arches (St Paul's, S. Agnese, S. Clemente, the two basilicas of S. Apollinare at Ravenna). Above the pillars the clerestory wall rose to a great height, pierced in its upper part by a range of plain round-headed windows. The space between the windows and the colonnade (the later triforium-space) was usually decorated with a series of mosaic pictures in panels. The colonnades sometimes extended quite to the end of the church (the Ravenna basilicas), sometimes ceased some little distance from the end, thus admitting the formation of a transverse aisle or transept (St Paul's, Old St Peter's, St John Lateran). Where this transept occurred it was divided from the nave by a wide arch, the face and soffit of which were richly decorated with mosaics. Over the crown of the arch we often find a bust of Christ or the holy lamb lying upon the altar, and, on either side, the evangelistic symbols, the seven candlesticks and the twenty-four elders. Another arch spanned the semicircular apse, in which the church always terminated. From Carolingian times this was designated the arch of triumph, because a cross was suspended from it.
|Fig. 8.—S. Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna.|
The conch or semi-dome that covered the apse was always covered with mosaic pictures, usually paintings of our Lord, either seated or standing, with St Peter and St Paul, and other apostles and saints, on either hand. The beams of the roof were sometimes concealed by a flat ceiling, richly carved and gilt. The altar, standing in the centre of the chord of the apse on a raised platform reached by flights of steps, was rendered conspicuous by a lofty canopy supported by marble pillars (ciborium, baldacchino), from which depended curtains of the richest materials. Beneath the altar was the confessio, a subterranean chapel, containing the body of the patron saint, and relics of other holy persons. This was approached by descending flights of steps from the nave or aisles. The confessio in some cases reproduced the original place of interment of the patron saint, either in a catacomb-chapel or in an ordinary grave, and thus formed the sacred nucleus round which the church arose. We have good examples of this arrangement at St Peter's and St Paul's at Rome, and S. Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna. It was copied in the original cathedral of Canterbury. The bishop or officiating presbyter advanced from his seat in the centre of the semicircle of the apse to the altar, and celebrated the Eucharist with his face to the congregation below. At the foot of the altar steps a raised platform, occupying the upper portion of the nave, formed a choir for the singers, readers and other inferior clergy. This oblong space was separated from the aisles and from the western portion of the nave by low marble walls or railings (cancelli). From these walls projected ambones or pulpits with desks, also of marble, ascended by steps.
The exterior of the basilicas was usually of an extreme plainness. The vast brick walls were unrelieved by ornament, save occasionally by arcading as at S. Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, and had no compensating grace of outline or beauty of proportion. An exception was made for the entrance front, which was sometimes covered with plates of marble mosaics or painted stucco (Old St Peter's, S. Lorenzo). But in spite of any decorations the external effect of a basilica must always have been heavy and unattractive. S. Apollinare in Classe at Ravenna (fig. 8) affords a typical example. The campanile is a later addition. Within, apart from the beautiful mosaic decoration, a fine effect was produced by the arch of triumph and the apse, which terminated the nave and dominated the whole vast space of the interior.
|Fig. 9.—Façade of old St Peter's, Rome.|
To pass from general description to individual churches, the first place must be given, as the earliest and grandest examples of the type, to the world-famous Roman basilicas; those of St Peter, St Paul and St John Lateran, "omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput." It is true that no one of these exists in its original form, Old St Peter's having been entirely removed in the 16th century to make room for its magnificent successor; and both St Paul's and St John Lateran having been greatly injured by fire, and the last named being so completely modernized as to have lost all interest. Of the two former, however, we possess drawings and plans and minute descriptions, which give an accurate conception of the original buildings. To commence with St Peter's, from the illustrations annexed (figs. 9, 10, 11) it will be seen that the church was entered through a vast colonnaded atrium, 212 ft. by 235 ft., with a fountain in the centre,—the atrium being preceded by a porch mounted by a noble flight of steps. The church was 212 ft. wide by 380 ft. long; the nave, 80 ft. in width, was six steps lower than the side aisles, of which there were two on each side. The four dividing colonnades were each of twenty-two Corinthian columns. Those next the nave supported horizontal entablatures. The inner colonnades bore arches, with a second clerestory. The main clerestory walls were divided into two rows of square panels containing mosaics, and had windows above. The transept projected beyond the body of the church,—a very unusual arrangement. The apse, of remarkably small dimensions, was screened off by a double row of twelve wreathed columns of Parian marble. The pontifical chair was placed in the centre of the curve of the apse, on a platform raised several steps above the presbytery. To the right and left the seats of the cardinals followed the line of the apse. At the centre of the chord stood the high altar beneath a ciborium, resting on four pillars of porphyry. Beneath the altar was the subterranean chapel, the centre of the devotion of so large a portion of the Christian world, believed to contain the remains of St Peter; a vaulted crypt ran round the foundation wall of the apse in which many of the popes were buried. The roof showed its naked beams and rafters.
|Fig. 11.—Sectional view of the old Basilica of St Peter,
before its destruction in the 16th century.
|Fig. 12.—Ground-Plan of
St Paul's, Rome, before its
destruction by fire.
|a, Narthex. d, Altar.|
|b, Nave. e, Bema.|
|c, c, Side aisles. f, Apse.|
|Fig. 13.—Section of the Basilica of St Paul, Rome.|
The basilica of St Paul without the walls, dedicated 324 A.D., rebuilt 388-423, remained in a sadly neglected state, but substantially unaltered, till the disastrous fire of 1823, which reduced the nave to a calcined ruin. Its plan and dimensions (figs. 12, 13) were almost identical with those of St Peter's.
The only parts of the modernized five-aisled basilica of St John Lateran (of which we have a plan in its original state, Agincourt, pl. lxxiii. No. 22) which retain any interest, are the double-vaulted aisle which runs round the apse, a most unusual arrangement, and the baptistery. The latter is an octagonal building standing some little distance from the basilica to the south. Its roof is supported by a double range of columns, one above the other, encircling the baptismal basin sunk below the floor.
Of the three-aisled basilicas the best example is the Liberian or S. Maria Maggiore dedicated 365, and reconstructed 432 A.D. Its internal length to the chord of the apse is 250 ft. by 100 ft. in breadth. The Ionic pillars of grey granite, uniform in style, twenty on each side, form a colonnade of great dignity and beauty, unfortunately broken towards the east by intrusive arches opening into chapels. The clerestory, though modern, is excellent in style and arrangement. Corinthian pilasters divide the windows, beneath which are very remarkable mosaic pictures of subjects from Old Testament history, generally supposed to date from the pontificate of Sixtus III., 432-440. The face of the arch of triumph presents also a series of mosaics illustrative of the infancy of our Lord, of great value in the history of art. The apse is of later date, reconstructed by Paschal I. in 818.
|Fig. 14.—Section of Basilica of S. Agnese at Rome.|
Of the remaining Roman basilicas that of S. Sabina on the Aventine is of special interest as its interior, dating from about A.D. 430, has preserved more of the primitive aspect than any other. Its carved wooden doors of early Christian date are of unique value, and in the spandrils of its inner arcades, upborne by splendid antique Corinthian columns, are some good specimens of opus sectile or mosaic of cut marble. The ancient roof is an open one. The basilicas of S. Lorenzo fuori le Mura and S. Agnese deserve particular notice, as exhibiting galleries corresponding to those of the civil basilicas and to the later triforium, carried above the aisles and returned across the entrance end. It is doubtful, however, whether these galleries are part of the original schemes. The architectural history of S. Lorenzo's is curious. When originally constructed in A.D. 432, it consisted of a short nave of six bays, with an internal narthex the whole height of the building. In the 13th century Honorius III. disorientated the church by pulling down the apse and erecting a nave of twelve bays on its site and beyond it, thus converting the original nave into a square-ended choir, the level being much raised, and the magnificent Corinthian columns half buried. As a consequence of the church being thus shifted completely round, the face of the arch of triumph, turned away from the present entrance, but towards the original one, is invested with the usual mosaics (Agincourt, pl. xxviii. Nos. 29, 30, 31). The basilica of S. Agnese, of which we give a section (fig. 14), is a small but interesting building, much like what S. Lorenzo must have been before it was altered.
|Fig. 15.—Plan of Basilica of S. Clemente in Rome.|
|1. Porch. 5. Aisle for women. 9. Epistle-ambo.|
|2. Atrium. 6. Chorus cantorum. 10. Confessio.|
|3. Nave. 7. Altar. 11. Bishop's throne.|
|4. Aisle for men. 8. Gospel-ambo.|
Though inferior in size, and later in date than most of the basilicas already mentioned, that of S. Clemente is not surpassed in interest by any one of them. This is due to its having retained its original ritual arrangements and church-fittings more perfectly than any other. These fittings have been removed from the earlier church, lying below the existing building, which at some unknown date and for some unrecorded reason was abandoned and filled up with earth, while a new building was erected upon it as a foundation. The most probable account is that the earlier church was so completely overwhelmed in the ruin of the city in 1084, when Robert Guiscard burnt all the public buildings from the Lateran to the Capitol, that it was found simpler and more convenient to build a new edifice at a higher level than to repair the old one. The annexed plan (fig. 15) and view (fig. 16) show the peculiarities of the existing building. The church is preceded by an atrium, the only perfect example remaining in Rome, in the centre of which is the cantharus or fountain for ablutions. The atrium is entered by a portico made up of earlier fragments very carelessly put together. The chorus cantorum, which occupies about one-third of the nave, is enclosed by a low marble screen, about 3 ft. high, a work of the 9th century, preserved from the old church but newly arranged. The white marble slabs are covered with patterns in low relief, and are decorated with ribbons of glass mosaic of the 13th century. These screen-walls stand quite free of the pillars, leaving a passage between. On the ritual north stands the gospel-ambo, of octagonal form, with a double flight of steps westwards and eastwards. To the west of it stands the great Paschal candlestick, with a spiral shaft, decorated with mosaic. Opposite, to the south, is the epistle-ambo, square in plan, with two marble reading-desks facing east and west, for the reading of the epistle and the gradual respectively. The sanctuary is raised two steps above the choir, from which it is divided by another portion of the same marble screen. The altar stands beneath a lofty ciborium, supported by marble columns, with a canopy on smaller shafts above. It retains the rods and rings for the curtains to run on. Behind the altar, in the centre of the curved line of the apse, is a marble episcopal throne, bearing the monogram of Anastasius who was titular cardinal of this church in 1108. The conch of the apse is inlaid with mosaics of quite the end of the 13th century. The subterranean church, disinterred by the zeal of Father Mullooly, the prior of the adjacent Irish Dominican convent, is supported by columns of very rich marble of various kinds. The aisle walls, as well as those of the narthex, are covered with fresco-paintings of various dates from the 7th to the 11th century, in a marvellous state of preservation (See St Clement, Pope and Martyr, and his Basilica in Rome, by Joseph Mullooly, O.P., Rome, 1873.)
|Fig. 16.—Interior of S. Clemente in Rome.|
The fullest lists of early Christian basilicas outside Rome are given in Kraus's Realencyklopädie der christlichen Alterthümer, Freiburg i. B., 1882, art. "Basilica," and more recently in Leclercq's Manuel d'archéologie chrétienne, Paris 1907, vol. i. App. i., "Essai de Classement des Principaux Monuments." Only a few characteristic specimens in different regions can here be noticed. In Italy, apart from Rome, the most remarkable basilican churches are the two dedicated to S. Apollinare at Ravenna. They are of smaller dimensions than those of Rome, but the design and proportions are better. The cathedral of this city, a noble basilica with double aisles, erected by Archbishop Ursus, A.D. 400 (Agincourt, pl. xxiii. No. 21), was unfortunately destroyed on the erection of the present tasteless building. Of the two basilicas of S. Apollinare, the earlier, S. Apollinare Nuovo, originally an Arian church erected by Theodoric, 493-525, measuring 315 ft. in length by 115 ft. in breadth, has a nave 51 ft. wide, separated from the single aisles by colonnades of twenty-two pillars, supporting arches, a small prismatic block bearing a sculptured cross intervening with very happy effect between the capital and the arch. Below the windows a continuous band of saintly figures, male on one side and female on the other, advancing in stately procession towards Our Lord and the Virgin Mother respectively, affords one of the most beautiful examples of mosaic ornamentation to be found in any church (fig. 17). The design of the somewhat later and smaller church of S. Apollinare in Classe, A.D. 538-549, measuring 216 ft. by 104 ft., is so similar that they must have proceeded from the same architect (Agincourt, pl lxxiii. No. 35).
|Fig. 17.—Arches of S.
Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna.
The cathedral on the island of Torcello near Venice, originally built in the 7th century, but largely repaired c. A.D. 1000, deserves special attention from the fact that it preserves, in a more perfect state than can be seen elsewhere, the arrangements of the seats in the apse (fig. 18). The bishop's throne occupies the centre of the arc, approached by a steep flight of steps. Six rows of stone benches for the presbyters, rising one above another like the seats in a theatre, follow the curve on either side—the whole being singularly plain and almost rude. The altar stands on a platform; the sanctuary is divided from the nave by a screen of six pillars. The walls of the apse are inlaid with plates of marble. The church is 125 ft. by 75 ft. The narrow aisles are only 7 ft. in width.
|Fig. 18.—Apse of Basilica, Torcello, with Bishop's throne
and seats for the clergy.
(From a drawing by Lady Palgrave.)
Another very remarkable basilica, less known than it deserves to be, is that of Parenzo in Istria, c. A.D. 542. Few basilicas have sustained so little alteration. From the annexed ground-plan (fig. 19) it will be seen that it retains its atrium and a baptistery, square without, octagonal within, to the west of it. Nine pillars divide each aisle from the nave, some of them borrowed from earlier buildings. The capitals are Byzantine. The choir occupies the three easternmost bays. The apse, as at Torcello, retains the bishop's throne and the bench for the presbyters apparently unaltered. The mosaics are singularly gorgeous, and the apse walls, as at Torcello, are inlaid with rich marble and mother-of-pearl. The dimensions are small—121 ft. by 32 ft. (See Kunstdenkmale des osterreichischen Kaiserreichs, by Dr G. Heider and others.)
|Fig. 19.—Ground-Plan of Cathedral of Parenzo, Istria.|
|a, Cloistered atrium. d, Chorus cantorum. h, Belfry.|
|+, Narthex. e, Altar. i, Chapel of St Andrew.|
|b, Nave. f, Bishop's throne.|
|c, c, Aisles. g, Baptistery.|
In the Eastern church, though the erection of St Sophia at Constantinople introduced a new type which almost entirely superseded the old one, the basilican form, or as it was then termed dromical, from its shape being that of a race-course (dromos), was originally as much the rule as in the West. The earliest church of which we have any clear account, that of Paulinus at Tyre, A.D. 313-322, described by Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. x. 4 § 37), was evidently basilican, with galleries over the aisles, and had an atrium in front. That erected by Constantine at Jerusalem, on the side of the Holy Sepulchre, 333, followed the same plan (Euseb., Vit. Const. iii. c. 29), as did the original churches of St Sophia and of the Apostles at Constantinople. Both these buildings have entirely passed away, but we have an excellent example of an oriental basilica of the same date still standing in the church of the Nativity at Bethlehem, rebuilt by Justinian in the 6th century (fig. 20). Here we find an oblong atrium, a vestibule or narthex, double aisles with Corinthian columns, and a transept, each end of which terminates in an apse, in addition to that in the usual position. Beneath the centre of the transept is the subterranean church of the Nativity (Vogué, Les Églises de la Terre Sainte, p. 46).
Constantinople preserved till recently a basilican church of the 5th century, that of St John Studios, 463, now a ruin. It had a nave and side aisles divided by columns supporting a horizontal entablature, with another order supporting arches forming a gallery above. There was the usual apsidal termination. The chief difference between the Eastern and Roman basilicas is in the galleries. This feature is very rare in the West, and only occurs in some few examples, the antiquity of which is questioned at Rome but never at Ravenna. It is, on the other hand, a characteristic feature of Eastern churches, the galleries being intended for women, for whom privacy was more studied than in the West (Salzenberg, Altchrist. Baudenkmale von Constantinople).
|Fig. 20.—Plan of church of
the Nativity, Bethlehem.
1, Narthex; 2, nave;
3, 3, aisles.
Other basilican churches in the East which deserve notice are those of the monastery of St Catherine on Mt. Sinai built by Justinian, that of Dana between Antioch and Bir of the same date, St Philip at Athens, Bosra in Arabia, Xanthus in Lycia, and the very noble church of St Demetrius at Thessalonica. Views and descriptions of most of these may be found in Texier and Pullan's Byzantine Architecture, Couchaud's Choix d'églises byzantines, and the works of the count de Vogué. In the Roman province of North Africa there are abundant remains of early Christian churches, and S. Gsell, Les Monuments antiques de l'Algérie, has noticed more than 130 examples. Basilicas of strictly early Christian date are not now to be met with in France, Spain or Germany, but the interesting though very plain "Basse Œuvre" at Beauvais may date from Carolingian times, while Germany can show at Michelstadt in the Odenwald an unaltered basilica of the time of Charles the Great. The fine-columned basilica of St Mauritius, near Hildesheim, dates from the 11th century, and the basilican form has been revived in the noble modern basilica at Munich.
|Fig. 21.—Plan of early Christian
Basilica of about the 4th century
at Silchester, Hants.
(From Archaeologia, liii.)
England can show more early Christian survivals than France or Germany. In the course of the excavation of the Roman city of Silchester, there was brought to light in 1892 the remains of a small early Christian basilica dating from the 4th century of which fig. 21 gives the plan (Archaeologia, vol. liii.). It will be noted that the apse is flanked by two chambers, of the nature of sacristies, cut off from the rest of the church, and known in ecclesiastical terminology as prothesis and diaconicon. These features, rare in Italy, are almost universal in the churches of North Africa and Syria. Another existing English basilica of early date is that of Brixworth in Northamptonshire, probably erected by Saxulphus, abbot of Peterborough, c. A.D. 680. It consisted of a nave divided from its aisles by quadrangular piers supporting arches turned in Roman brick, with clerestory windows above, and a short chancel terminating in an apse, outside which, as at St Peter's at Rome, ran a circumscribing crypt entered by steps from the chancel. At the west end was a square porch, the walls of which were carried up later in the form of a tower.
The first church built in England under Roman influence was the original Saxon cathedral of Canterbury. From the annexed ground-plan (fig. 22), as conjecturally restored from Eadmer's description, we see that it was an aisled basilica, with an apse at either end, containing altars standing on raised platforms approached by steps. Beneath the eastern platform was a crypt, or confessio, containing relics, "fabricated in the likeness of the confessionary of St Peter at Rome" (Eadmer). The western apse, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, contained the bishop's throne. From this and other indications Willis thinks that this was the original altar end, the eastern apse being a subsequent addition of Archbishop Odo, c. 950, the church having been thus turned from west to east, as at the already-described basilica of S. Lorenzo at Rome. The choir, as at S. Clemente's, occupied the eastern part of the nave, and like it was probably enclosed by breast-high partitions. There were attached porches to the north and south of the nave. The main entrance of the church was through that to the south. At this suthdure, according to Eadmer, "all disputes from the whole kingdom, which could not legally be referred to the king's court, or to the hundreds and counties, received judgment." The northern porch contained a school for the younger clergy.