Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, a major basilica of the Roman Catholic Church, is a central-plan building, enlarged by a basilical nave
St. John in the Lateran is both an architectural and an ecclesiastical basilica

The Latin word basilica (derived from Greek βασιλικὴ στοά, lit. "royal stoa", serving as the tribunal chamber of a king) has three distinct applications in modern English. The word was originally used to describe an ancient Roman public building where courts were held, as well as serving other official and public functions. To a large extent these were the town halls of ancient Roman life. The basilica was centrally located in every Roman town, usually adjacent to the main forum. These buildings, an example of which is the Basilica Ulpia, were rectangular, and often had a central nave and aisles, usually with a slightly raised platform and an apse at each of the two ends, adorned with a statue perhaps of the emperor, while the entrances were from the long sides. [1] [2]

By extension the name was applied to Christian churches which adopted the same basic plan and it continues to be used as an architectural term to describe such buildings, which form the majority of church buildings in Western Christianity, though the basilican building plan became less dominant in new buildings from the later 20th century. Later, the term came to refer specifically to a large and important Roman Catholic church that has been given special ceremonial rights by the Pope.

Roman Catholic basilicas are Catholic pilgrimage sites, receiving tens of millions of visitors per year. [3] [4] In December 2009 the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City set a new record with 6.1 million pilgrims during Friday and Saturday for the anniversary of Our Lady of Guadalupe. [5]

Architecture

Remains of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine in Rome. The building's northern aisle is all that remains.
Floor plan of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine

The Roman basilica was a large public building where business or legal matters could be transacted. The first basilicas had no religious function at all. As early as the time of Augustus, a public basilica for transacting business had been part of any settlement that considered itself a city, used in the same way as the late medieval covered market houses of northern Europe, where the meeting room, for lack of urban space, was set above the arcades, however. Although their form was variable, basilicas often contained interior colonnades that divided the space, giving aisles or arcaded spaces on one or both sides, with an apse at one end (or less often at each end), where the magistrates sat, often on a slightly raised dais. The central aisle tended to be wide and was higher than the flanking aisles, so that light could penetrate through the clerestory windows.

The oldest known basilica, the Basilica Porcia, was built in Rome in 184 BC by Cato the Elder during the time he was Censor. Other early examples include the basilica at Pompeii (late 2nd century BC).

Probably the most splendid Roman basilica (see below) is the one begun for traditional purposes during the reign of the pagan emperor Maxentius and finished by Constantine I after 313 AD.

Basilicas in the Roman Forum

Palace basilicas

In the Roman Imperial period (after about 27 BCE), a basilica for large audiences also became a feature in palaces. In the 3rd century AD, the governing elite appeared less frequently in the forums.

They now tended to dominate their cities from opulent palaces and country villas, set a little apart from traditional centers of public life. Rather than retreats from public life, however, these residences were the forum made private.(Peter Brown, in Paul Veyne, 1987)

Seated in the tribune of his basilica, the great man would meet his dependent clientes early every morning.

A private basilica excavated at Bulla Regia (Tunisia), in the "House of the Hunt", dates from the first half of the 5th century. Its reception or audience hall is a long rectangular nave-like space, flanked by dependent rooms that mostly also open into one another, ending in a semi-circular apse, with matching transept spaces. Clustered columns emphasised the "crossing" of the two axes.

Christian adoption of the basilica form

Structural elements of a gothic basilica.
Variations: Where the roofs have a low slope, the gallery may have own windows or may be missing

The remains of a large subterranean Neopythagorean basilica dating from the 1st century AD were found near the Porta Maggiore in Rome in 1915. The ground-plan of Christian basilicas in the 4th century was similar to that of this Neopythagorean basilica, which had three naves and an apse.

In the 4th century, once the Imperial authorities had decriminalised Christianity with the 313 Edict of Milan, and with the activities of Constantine the Great and his mother Helena, Christians were prepared to build larger and more handsome edifices for worship than the furtive meeting-places (such as the Cenacle, cave-churches, house churches such as that of the Roman consuls John and Paul) they had been using. Architectural formulas for temples were unsuitable, for their pagan associations, and because pagan cult ceremonies and sacrifices occurred outdoors under the open sky in the sight of the gods, with the temple, housing the cult figures and the treasury, as a backdrop. The usable model at hand, when Constantine wanted to memorialise his imperial piety, was the familiar conventional architecture of the basilicas. [6]

Floor plan of a Christian church of basilical form, with the transept shaded. Either the western part of the nave or the choir may have a hall structure instead. The choir also may be aisleless

There were several variations of the basic plan of the secular basilica, always some kind of rectangular hall, but the one usually followed for churches had a central nave with one aisle at each side and an apse at one end opposite to the main door at the other end. In, and often also in front of, the apse was a raised platform, where the altar was placed, and from where the clergy officiated. In secular building this plan was more typically used for the smaller audience halls of the emperors, governors, and the very rich than for the great public basilicas functioning as law courts and other public purposes. [7] Constantine built a basilica of this type in his palace complex at Trier, later very easily adopted for use as a church. It is a long rectangle two storeys high, with ranks of arch-headed windows one above the other, without aisles (there was no mercantile exchange in this imperial basilica) and, at the far end beyond a huge arch, the apse in which Constantine held state.

Comparison of profiles of churches

Development

Old St Peter's, Rome, as the 4th century basilica had developed by the mid-15th century, in a 19th-century reconstruction
Romanesque basilica of nowadays Lutheran Bursfelde Abbey in Germany
St. Sebald's in Nuremberg has a basilical nave and a hall choir
Palma Cathedral on Mallorca in Spain has windows on three levels, one above the aisles, one above the file of chapels and one in the chapels.
A rare American church built imitating the architecture of an Early Christian basilica, St. Mary's (German) Church in Pennsylvania, now demolished.

Putting an altar instead of the throne, as was done at Trier, made a church. Basilicas of this type were built in western Europe, Greece, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, that is, at any early centre of Christianity. Good early examples of the architectural basilica include the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem (6th century AD), the church of St Elias at Thessalonica (5th century AD), and the two great basilicas at Ravenna.

The first basilicas with transepts were built under the orders of Emperor Constantine, both in Rome and in his "New Rome", Constantinople:

"Around 380, Gregory Nazianzen, describing the Constantinian Church of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople, was the first to point out its resemblance to a cross. Because the cult of the cross was spreading at about the same time, this comparison met with stunning success." ( Yvon Thébert, in Veyne, 1987)

Thus, a Christian symbolic theme was applied quite naturally to a form borrowed from civil semi-public precedents. The first great Imperially sponsored Christian basilica is that of St John Lateran, which was given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine right before or around the Edict of Milan in 313 and was consecrated in the year 324. In the later 4th-century, other Christian basilicas were built in Rome: Santa Sabina, and St Paul's Outside the Walls (4th century), and later St Clement (6th century).

A Christian basilica of the 4th or 5th century stood behind its entirely enclosed forecourt ringed with a colonnade or arcade, like the stoa or peristyle that was its ancestor or like the cloister that was its descendant. This forecourt was entered from outside through a range of buildings along the public street. This was the architectural ground-plan of St Peter's Basilica in Rome, until in the 15th century it was demolished to make way for a modern church built to a new plan.

In most basilicas, the central nave is taller than the aisles, forming a row of windows called a clerestory. Some basilicas in the Caucasus, particularly those of Armenia and Georgia, have a central nave only slightly higher than the two aisles and a single pitched roof covering all three. The result is a much darker interior. This plan is known as the "oriental basilica", or "pseudobasilica" in central Europe.

Gradually, in the early Middle Ages there emerged the massive Romanesque churches, which still kept the fundamental plan of the basilica.

In the United States the style was copied with variances. A rare American church built imitating the architecture of an Early Christian basilica, St. Mary's (German) Church in Pennsylvania, was demolished in 1997.

Basilicas in Eastern Orthodoxy

Wooden church from Maramures, Romania.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, in general, the basilica is a mere architectural description of churches built in the ancient style. It bears no significance with regard to precedence or importance of the particular building or clerics associated with it. Eastern basilicas may be single-naved, or have the nave flanked by one or two pairs of lower aisles; it may have a dome in the middle: in this case it is called a "domed basilica".

In Romania, the word for church both as a building and as an institution is biserică, derived from the term basilica.

The style influenced the construction of early wooden churches.

Other Languages
العربية: بازيليكا
azərbaycanca: Bazilika
беларуская: Базіліка
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Базыліка
български: Базилика
bosanski: Bazilika
català: Basílica
čeština: Bazilika
dansk: Basilika
eesti: Basiilika
español: Basílica
Esperanto: Baziliko
euskara: Basilika
فارسی: بازیلیکا
Gaeilge: Baisleac
Gàidhlig: Bàislig
galego: Basílica
한국어: 바실리카
Հայերեն: Բազիլիկ
hrvatski: Bazilika
Bahasa Indonesia: Basilika
italiano: Basilica
עברית: בזיליקה
ქართული: ბაზილიკა
қазақша: Базилика
Kiswahili: Basilika
Кыргызча: Базилика
Latina: Basilica
latviešu: Bazilika
lietuvių: Bazilika
magyar: Bazilika
македонски: Базилика
Nederlands: Basiliek
日本語: バシリカ
norsk bokmål: Basilika
norsk nynorsk: Basilika
Nouormand: Basouque
occitan: Basilica
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Bazilika
Piemontèis: Basìlica
polski: Bazylika
português: Basílica
română: Bazilică
русский: Базилика
shqip: Bazilika
Simple English: Basilica
slovenčina: Bazilika
slovenščina: Bazilika (zgradba)
српски / srpski: Базилика
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Bazilika
Türkçe: Bazilika
українська: Базиліка
vèneto: Baxełega
West-Vlams: Basilicoale kerke
中文: 巴西利卡