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Martyrium (architecture)

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The largely 5th-century interior of Santo Stefano Rotondo in Rome


A martyrium (Latin) or martyrion (ancient Greek) (plural, martyries or martyria) is
a church of a specific architectural form, centered on a central element and thus
built on a central plan, that is, of a circular or sometimes octagonal or cruciform
shape.[1]

Contents [hide]
1 History
2 Development
3 Examples
4 Etymology
5 Notes
6 References
History[edit]
The oldest Christian martyria were built at a site which bears witness to the
Christian faith, either by referring to an event in Christ's life or Passion, or by
sheltering the grave of a martyr.[2] Martyria, mostly small, were very common after
the early 4th century, when Constantine became the first emperor to declare
religious tolerance for Christianity in the Roman Empire. Martyria had no standard
architectural plan, and are found in a wide variety of designs. There was often a
sunken floor, or part of it, to bring the faithful closer to the remains of the
saint, and a small opening, the fenestella, going from the altar-stone to the grave
itself.[3]

Later churches began to bring the relics of saints to the church, rather than
placing the church over the grave; the first translation of relics was in Antioch
in 354, when the remains of Saint Babylas, which were in a sarcophagus, were moved
to a new church.[4]

Development[edit]
The architectural form of the martyrium has been developed from Roman architecture,
mainly based on imperial mausolea. Constantine the Great applied it for the tomb of
Jesus at the Anastasis in Jerusalem (ca. 326-380s) and the Apostles' Church in
Constantinople, while also erecting round mausolea for himself and his daughters.
[5] The first step towards creating a church based on an imperial mausoleum was
made around 320, when Constantine connected what was supposed to become his own
mausoleum, with a church structure.[5]

The same form was later adopted by the early Islamic architecture, who employed it
in the creation of a shrine known as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, built much
in the style of the Constantinian rotunda of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,
which it was supposed to create a dialog of shrines with, while looking down on it
from a dominant position (the Temple Mount).

The central-plan martyrium church became a shape used for important churches which
didn't contain important relics, as was the case of the Constantinian Golden
Octagon at Antioch, perhaps also of the octagonal church of Caesarea Maritima
(built ca. 480-500), San Vitale in Ravenna (526-547), and the Palatine Chapel in
Aachen (ca. 792-805).[1][5]

Examples[edit]
Martyria that remain in something like their original form include the following[6]

the 4th-century core of the much expanded St. Gereon's Basilica, Cologne
A building with three apses over the Catacomb of Callixtus in Rome
Santo Stefano Rotondo in Rome, late 5th century
Basilica of San Lorenzo, Milan, perhaps 4th century, although the oldest part of
the church now evident is an adjoining Imperial mausoleum of the 4th century
(compare Santa Costanza in Rome).
Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, on the most important Christian site of
all, founded by Constantine.
Church of Saint Simeon Stylites, Syria, 5th century, also very large, and now in
ruins.
Other celebrated Martyria include

The Martyrium of Saint Denis, Montmartre


The Martyrium of Saint Hripsime in the city of Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), Armenia
The San Pietro in Montorio in Rome, Italy, which includes in its courtyard the
Tempietto, a small commemorative martyrium built by Donato Bramante.
Etymology[edit]
The origin of the name of the Christian martyrium is as follows Ancient Greek
martys, witness, to martyrion, testimony, to Late and Ecclesiastical Latin
martyrium.

Notes[edit]
^ Jump up to a b Glen Bowersock, Peter Brown, Oleg Grabar (1999). Late Antiquity A
Guide to the Postclassical World. Harvard University Press Reference Library (Book
9). Cambridge, Massachusetts Belknap Press. p. 376. ISBN 9780674511736. Retrieved 1
December 2015.
Jump up ^ Krautheimer, Richard. Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture. Yale
University Press, 1986. Fourth edition, with Slobodan Curcic. p.518. ISBN 978-0-
300-05294-7
Jump up ^ Syndicus, 73-74
Jump up ^ Syndicus, 73-89
^ Jump up to a b c Jrgen Krger (2000). Die Grabeskirche zu Jerusalem. Regensburg
Schnell & Steiner. pp. 5859. ISBN 9783795412739.
Jump up ^ Syndicus, 73-87
References[edit]
Eduard Syndicus; Early Christian Art, Burns & Oates, London, 1962
Categories Christian architecturePalaeo-Christian architecture
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This page was last edited on 21 September 2017, at 1611.
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