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Early Christian Chapels in the West

Early Christian Chapels in the West: Decoration, Function, and Patronage

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 512
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  • Book Info
    Early Christian Chapels in the West
    Book Description:

    Gillian Mackie examines the decorative schemes, now often the only way to determine the function, patronage, and meaning of the building, of surviving early medieval chapels built in Italy and Istria from AD312-740.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7418-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-2)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Origins, Semantics, and Functions of the Early Christian Chapel
    (pp. 3-8)

    The Edict of Milan of 313, which allowed Christianity legal status as a religion following the conversion of the emperor Constantine, marked the beginning of a period of remarkable change both in Roman society and in the Church. In this period the acceptance of Christianity by the imperial family, followed gradually by other powerful and wealthy Romans, was marked by a surge of patronage.¹

    The provision of splendid new cult buildings, great basilicas for liturgical celebrations, and baptisteries for initiation rites quickly followed. But other, less imposing structures were also built, the buildings which we know as chapels. The period...

  7. Part One: The Context of the Chapels in Italy and Istria:: History, Archaeology, and Topography

    • CHAPTER ONE Martyr Shrine to Funerary Chapel
      (pp. 11-52)

      The end of the persecution of Christians after the Edict of Milan in 313 was followed by an explosion of interest in the cult of martyrs. The saints were honoured at their grave sites and also at their places of martyrdom. The earliest shrines marking the martyrsʹ graves were small memorial chapels,cellae memoriae. The tradition of building mausolea over the tombs of wealthy or important people was not a new or even a specifically Christian idea, but had a long history in pagan Rome. Earlier generations of Christians had venerated the graves of the martyrs, despite the danger of...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Mausolea of the Imperial Family in the West
      (pp. 53-60)

      The previous chapter has considered many chapels that were built for different aspects of the cult of the dead. Two of these funerary chapels will be singled out for special attention in a later chapter. The unusually well-documented chapel of S Vittore in Ciel DʹOro in Milan started its existence as a martyrʹsmemoriaand was subsequently used for thead sanctosburial of Ambroseʹs brother Satyrus. By contrast, the S Matrona chapel at S Prisco, rich in legend but almost undocumented, reveals in its architecture and decoration that its primary purpose was Christian burial, though who was interred there,...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Domestic Oratory: A Mirage
      (pp. 61-68)

      The domestic chapels of the aristocracy, which are mentioned in the literary sources, prove to be the most elusive of all Late Antique chapels. This is because none survive with any documentation at all, and thus none can be identified with certainty as Christian chapels. In Aquileia and Rome, a few mosaic pavements decorated with symbols capable of either Christian or pagan interpretation have been claimed as the floors of chapels in Christian houses, but their very ambiguity makes it impossible to confirm the functions of the buildings they once adorned or the beliefs of those who used them.¹ One...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Chapels within the Confines of Churches: A Late Development
      (pp. 69-90)

      This chapter is concerned with various categories of chapel which share a single and rather artificial feature: their location within the perimeter of a church. This distinction allows us to include chapels built for a variety of liturgical purposes. To these will be added sacristies, or ʹside chambers,ʹ to use Janet Smithʹs neutral term. These may also be situated inside the main structure of the church, and, like oratories, could be used for prayer and occasionally for burial. However, they had additional functions peculiar to their role as sacristies. These functions were extremely varied, and were often expressed in their...

  8. Part Two: The Survivors:: Iconography and Meaning

    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 91-103)

      The first section of this book has surveyed a wide geographical area: the whole of north and central Italy, as well as the coast of Istria, now divided between Croatia and Slovenia. It has explored a period of over four centuries that spans Late Antiquity and the start of the ʹDark Ages.ʹ Yet even though it covers so large an area, and such a long time span, and has brought together information about numerous chapels, few of them have survived with any of their decorations in place, and of these, fewer still are in a complete enough condition to allow...

    • CHAPTER FIVE A Sole Survivor: The Chapel of the Archbishops of Ravenna
      (pp. 104-115)

      We have already seen that none of the private chapels of the laity have survived into our times, and that even their existence would be in doubt were it not for the references to them in written sources. The other category of private chapel, the clergy-house oratory, would also be poorly known from sparse written sources if there were not a single and splendid survivor of the group, the Archbishopsʹ Chapel in Ravenna.

      The chapel is situated on the second floor of the Palace of the Archbishops of Ravenna, the Episcopium, in the precinct where the Cathedral and Baptistery stand.¹...

    • CHAPTER SIX Commemoration of the Dead: S Vittore in Ciel dʹOro, Milan, and the S Matrona Chapel at S Prisco
      (pp. 116-143)

      The memorial chapels which were built over the graves of the martyrs in Early Christian times have been subjected to many hazards over the intervening centuries, among them rebuilding, redecoration, and destruction by the natural elements. As a result, very few have survived in their original form, with any portion of their decoration in place. Among these, the most important is the chapel of S Vittore in Ciel dʹOro in Milan, which has retained a major part of its mosaic decoration, and so is effectively the only survivor of the myriads of decorated shrines that were built to commemorate the...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Mausolea of the Rulers in the West
      (pp. 144-194)

      A survey of thecorpusof funerary monuments built by the Christian emperors of the West in Late Antiquity has made it clear that the vast majority of them survive only in ruins and often in anonymity. Details of the decoration of the Mausoleum of Helena, for example, would hardly be known were it not for Bosio (fig. 42), while the enigmatic mausolea beside Old St Peterʹs present problems in their dating, patronage, and occupancy: not surprisingly, since both were destroyed during the rebuilding of St Peterʹs.

      Nevertheless, several Late Antique mausolea of imperial or royal quality do survive in...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Papal Chapels: The Chapels of Pope Hilarus at the Lateran Baptistery, Rome
      (pp. 195-211)

      Pope Hilarus I (461–8) built three chapels at the Lateran Baptistery, dedicating them to the two saints John and to the Holy Cross, and endowing them with exceptionally rich furnishings and adornments.¹ Two of the three chapels survive, with some modifications, and the Holy Cross chapel, which was pulled down in 1588, was recorded by numerous Renaissance architects and draughtsmen, and was also described by antiquarians.² The two surviving chapels of Hilarus, together with the seventh-century S Venanzio chapel of Pope John IV (640–2), which is the subject of the next chapter, constitute the most complete cluster of...

    • CHAPTER NINE A Collective Funerary Martyrium: The S Venanzio Chapel, Rome
      (pp. 212-230)

      The desire for burial inside the structures that were raised to commemmorate the martyrs was a natural consequence of the rise of the martyr cult itself, and of widespread belief in the power of the saints to help the individual in his lifetime and more particularly after his death, when burial beside a saint could be counted upon to ensure salvation. In addition, both cities and the Church believed that the martyrs could help them on a communal scale. Christians felt that the martyrs were the only power for good in a world that had become increasingly full of danger....

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER TEN The Chapel Revisited: A Synthesis
      (pp. 231-242)

      The information that has been gathered here, fragmentary though much of it is, has the potential to give a picture of the furnished chapel as it must have looked and functioned in its own time. The case studies of individual chapels which have survived in a more or less complete form have been set into a context of information about the distribution of chapels in the capital cities of the empire as well as the smaller centres; of chapels that are still extant and those that are lost. Chapels that survive below ground in the Roman catacombs or in archaeological...

  9. Appendix: A Short Catalogue of Chapels Mentioned in This Book
    (pp. 243-262)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 263-338)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 339-368)
  12. Index
    (pp. 369-378)