Like the Roman Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church built basilicas, but also developed a square-shaped church covered by a large dome, in the style of the Pantheon in Rome. Eventually four domed arms were added to allow more people inside and to provide better support for the roof. The four arms gave the building the shape of the Greek cross, in which all parts are the same length.
In these early churches, window openings were small to keep the walls strong enough to support the roof. The interiors were often dark and candles were used for lighting. Sometime in the 12th century in the West, there developed a new style of architecture that employed innovative external stone supports, called flying buttresses, allowing large windows of colored glass to be installed in the walls. The oldest known church in this Gothic style, the cathedral of Saint Denis near Paris, demonstrates an interior lit with daylight.
Emerging from Judaism as it did, Christianity customarily frowned on the making of images or likenesses. As the church attracted increasing numbers of non-Jewish converts, congregants brought pictures into the churches. The Western church quickly adopted the statues, frescoes, mosaics, and pictures of Jesus that grew in popularity. The Eastern Church largely avoided statues, but embraced frescoes, mosaics, and icons. Statues decorated the interiors and exteriors of churches, and in Gothic churches, stained glass depicted scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
Committed to a focus on the preaching of the word of God and desiring to remove what they considered to be distractions from hearing this word, some Protestant reformers stripped church interiors of decoration, including paintings, statues, furniture, and stained glass. They sometimes rearranged the interior of the church, moving the pulpit to the center, or arranging the pulpit, altar, and baptismal font together at the eastern end. This allowed all present to hear and see everything and focus on the word of God. The plain walls and plain glass in the windows brightened the interiors of these churches.
Modern Christians in the West, particularly in the United States, have a wide range of architectural styles to choose from. Relatively new building materials such as steel beams, reinforced concrete, and large structural glass panels allow architects to experiment with design. Notable examples are the Crystal Cathedral in southern California and the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Mary in San Francisco. Some congregations meet in ordinary locations like office buildings or storefronts, and many Christians still meet in homes, much as the early Christians did.
1. Describe the first churches. How were they managed? Why were they secretive?
2. How did the pulpit and altar develop?
3. How do Christian churches differ in architecture to Eastern Orthodox churches?
4. Why did many Christian churches choose to move away from iconography?