The Church Atrium as a Ritual Space: The Cathedral of Tyre and St Peter’s in Rome
Sible De Blaauw
Radboud University Nijmegen, Ritual and space in the Middle Ages, Harlaxton Symposium (2009)
The predominant view of Early Christian church building in modern scholarship is that it introduced hardly anything new. Scholars tend to stress the continuities with Ancient Roman architecture and the long history of the basilica type, which served as a model for the standard formula of the Christian church. The classicists among them do not fail to stress that such continuity did not prevent a dramatic loss of understanding of the classical canon. From this point of view, the Early Christian church building is just a poorly gifted, bastard child of a very noble fam ily, architecturally the result of a more or less skilful cut-and-paste operation on the vast repertoire of the Classical tradition. There may be something in this perception that is at least methodically fruitful, but it suffers from a chronic inclination to overlook the substantial renewal that took place both in Late Antique architecture in general and in Early Christian church building in particular.
Seen from a certain perspective – not that of out dated apologetic – the Early Christian church was a highly innovative creation. This insight, however, presumes a readiness to abandon the pure analysis of isolated elements, and to comprehend the spatial effect, in which not just the forms as such, but the dynamics between form and function, and hence between form and meaning, are included. From this point of view, the church atrium is one of the most intriguing elements of Early Christian architecture