Building a Roman Church: The Chapter Room


Chapter Room in Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini

Before we complete the interior of the church structure, with the altar, let us explore some of the areas of the church which are more behind the scenes or outside.  In this post we will discuss the Chapter Room.   Behind the apse, or sometime underneath it, may be a chapel-sized room where the priests or nuns meet.  In addition to side doors leading to this area, there may be grated openings between the chapter room and the main church.  This allows sound to pass between the adjoining areas. Continue reading

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Pop Quiz: Checking Your Church Architecture Observation Skills

P1040095While I have been visiting with my family for the past week, avoiding snow storms at home, I had a chance to visit two Roman Catholic churches in the San Jose, CA area.  First is the chapel at Maryknoll, a former seminary, now transformed into a retirement home for missionaries.  The second is the Basilica of St. Joseph, the cathedral in downtown San Jose.  Let’s see how many of the elements of a Roman Church we can discern with a virtual visit. Continue reading

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Building a Roman Church, The Dome and Cupola

The dome and cupola of St Peter's Basilica from about a half mile down the street

The dome and cupola of St Peter’s Basilica from about a half mile down the street

We have now toured the church’s nave and triumphal arch, side aisles and chapels, transept and apse.  Before we look at the central altar, one more architectural feature rests above us, the dome and cupola.  These work together as a unit, rising in the center of the Roman Cross design of the basilica, and directly above the altar.   Continue reading

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Poem: Anniversary Date

Tears of joy,
Tears of sorrow,
Memories of events passed,
Thoughts of those to follow. Continue reading

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Building a Roman Church: The Triumphal Arch

P1010164During the Roman Republic to Empire eras, leaders, who were usually also generals, built Triumphal Arches all over the city to commemorate their victories.  When they returned to Rome from a campaign, their procession would follow a route which passed through all of these, including whichever triumphal arches honored them.  This signified not only their victory, but that their status position followed the tradition of success of prior leaders.  Probably the most recognized triumphal arch is the Arch of Constantine, which stands just north of Coliseum before entering the Roman Forum.  Of course, I need not remind you that Emperor Constantine recognized Christianity and began the transformation of an outlaw religion to the catholic religion of the Roman Empire. Continue reading

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Building a Roman Church, The Apse and Transepts

Santa Marie Maddalena

Santa Marie Maddalena

As you walk forward through the side aisle of a Roman church, you will come to the place where the building has two arms which diverge out from the nave.  This is the transept.  The continuation of the nave beyond this is the apse.  Together the nave, transept, and apse, when seen from a floor plan, form a cross.

In the basilica style church, the nave is usually longer than the transept and apse, forming a Roman Cross.  In some churches, the nave, transept, and apse are the same dimensions, forming a Greek Cross.  Just to keep you guessing, some churches are round, with the altar located opposite the entrance, and niches in place of side chapels.  These are usually built within former Roman buildings, such as the Pantheon, which Christians remodeled in 609 ACE to Santa Maria ad Martyrs, and St. Bernardo alle Terme, which used one of the bath structures of the Baths of Diocletian.  For this discussion, I will limit us to Roman Cross churches. Continue reading

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Building a Roman Church, The Side Aisle and Chapels


Santa Maria dell’ Anima

After you enter the nave of the church and say “Ooh! Ahhh!” at the abundance of beauty, step back into the shadows of the side aisles.  Initially these may seem to be short cuts to the front altar and gift shop, especially if services are going on, but really the side aisle are where the more accessible art is displayed in the chapels.  The ceiling frescos of the nave may be 30 to 60 feet above your head.  They are best taken in as a whole image, or studied with binoculars.  The chapels, especially if they are open to enter, bring you right up to the art.  Do not just stroll by.  Rather step into the chapel and sit for a few minutes. The best artists anticipated that this is how you would view their paintings and sculptures, thus the image is designed to be viewed from this perspective. Continue reading

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