Open main menu

Page:History of Architecture in All Countries Vol 1.djvu/440

There was a problem when proofreading this page.
Part II.

present remains.[1] Above this subterranean church stands the edifice shown in the accompanying plan (Woodcut No.'273), nearly one-third less in size, being only 65 ft, wide internally, against 93 of the original church, though both were about the same length.

It is one of the few that still possesses an atrium or courtyard in front of the principal entrance, though there can be but little doubt that this was considered at that early age a most important, if not indeed an indispensable, attribute to the church itself. As a feature it may have been derived from the East, where we know it was most common, and where it afterwards became, with only the slightest possible modifications, the mosque of the Moslems. It would seem even more probable, however, that it is only a repetition of the forum which was always attached to the Pagan basilica, and through which it was always entered; and for a sepulchral church at least nothing could be more appropriate, as the original application of the word forum seems to have been to the open area that existed in front of tombs as well as of other important buildings.[2]

273. Plan of the Church of San Clemente at Rome.
(From Gutensohn and Knapp).)[3]
Scale 100 ft. to 1 in.

In the centre of this atrium there generally stood a fountain or tank of water, not only as an emblem of purity, but that those who came to the church might wash their hands before entering the holy place—a custom which seems to have given rise to the practice of dipping the fingers in the holy water of the piscina, now universal in all Catholic countries.

The colonnade next the church was frequently the only representative of the atrium, and then—perhaps indeed always—was called the narthex, or place for penitents or persons who had not yet acquired the right of entering the church itself.

  1. The older church has been so altered and ruined by the subsequent rebuildings that it is extremely difficult to make out its history. It seems, however, to have been built originally above the site of an old Mithraic temple, which has recently been cleared out, and probably before the time of Gregory the Great. It was apparently rebuilt, or nearly so, by Adrian I., 772, and burnt by Robert Guiscard, 1084. The upper church seems to have been erected by Paschal, 1099-1118. The question is, to what age do the frescoes found on the walls of the older church belong? Some of the heads and single figures may, I fancy, be anterior even to the time of Adrian; but the bulk of the paintings seems certainly to have been added between his age and 1084, and nearer the latter than the former date. If it had not been entirely ruined in 1084 Paschal would not have so completely obliterated it a century afterwards. A considerable quantity of the materials of the old church were used in the new, which tends further to confuse the chronology.
  2. Cicero de Legg. , ii. 24; Festus; s. v.; Smith's "Dictionary of Classical Antiquities."
  3. Gutensohn and Knapp, "Die Basiliken des Christlichen Roms."