The Medieval World, C. 400–1300

Early Jewish and Christian Art

What is a basilica plan church/synagogue?

While early Jewish and Christian synagogues and churches started out in private homes, over time a need for larger spaces for worship resulted in buildings constructed for specific use. The Roman basilica structure was particularly inspirational to early Jews and Christians as they were designed to accommodate large public gatherings, albeit for civic functions. The basilica-plan churches featured a central nave flanked by two narrower aisles on each side, separate by rows of columns. At one end of the nave was a semi-circular apse, usually facing the direction of Jerusalem. Basilica-plan synagogues usually had space for the Torah in the apse. During the third century C.E., Emperor Constantine began a large-scale building program in Rome during which the original St. Peter’s Basilica was constructed over the believed site of St. Peter’s burial. It is now referred to as Old St. Peter’s Basilica because it was destroyed to make way for New St. Peter’s Basilica, a building that stands to this day. Old St. Peter’s Basilica was so popular during its time that it served to popularize the basilica-plan style of church-building for centuries.


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