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.  

St. Peter's Basilica below the triumphal arch, looking up into the dome

St. Peter’s Basilica from inside the nave

They serve the dual purpose of elevating the space above the altar, and allowing additional light, through windows in the dome and more in the cupola. Furthermore, they symbolize the heavens above the altar.

San Luigi dei Francesi

San Luigi dei Francesi

For the benefit of extra light, some churches, such as San Luigi dei Francesi, included domes and cupola over major side chapels.  In a city built more and more densely, any attempt to draw in, and direct light from above was a premium.

Santa Maria Maddelena

Santa Maria Maddelena

The size of the church did not necessary dictate having a dome.  Even a relatively small church such as Santa Maria Maddelena could have an elaborate visual space.

San Ignazio di Loyola

San Ignazio di Loyola

In some churches, which crossing barrel vaults (i.e. that of the nave and of the transept) which lacked an actual dome, one was painted on the ceiling, giving the illusion of a dome, for those seated at the corrected location in the center of the nave. My photo does not capture this well, but the dark color where the dome should be is a painting on the ceiling.

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

Finally, some domes were recycled Roman bath structures.  Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri was built-in the ruins of the Bathes of Diocletian.  The dome of over the altar is the remains of one of the bathing spas. (My photo is actually of the dome over the entry way.  The dome over the altar, which I did not take a photo of, is another section of the bathes and much larger.)  Why try to build something more impressive that what the Romans did?

About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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5 Responses to Building a Roman Church, The Dome and Cupola

  1. Walking with you, Oscar, through the cathedrals and streets of Rome…pull me back into that arena where images of splendor and beauty…even faded…are over whelming. My quest whilst in Rome? Firenze’? Find Michelangelo’s footprints. Discovered an ancient church dedicated to the “outcasts” of the city….where a Michelangelo carved wooden cross hugged an equally ancient stucco wall. He left many footprints…

  2. That first photo is just extraordinary – love the architecture, but I also love that you captured all the people as well. (also – having much snow on the mountain?)

    • hermitsdoor says:

      People can be dwarfed in these lofty spaces. In a few of the shots that I took (but will not post) of ceilings, I pointed the camera lense up and took a picture of my face instead. More of me than you want to see.

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