THE3214 - Building God's House: The Origins of Church Architecture

2022/3 Module description

StaffProfessor Emma Loosley Leeming - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module description

This module will introduce you to the origins of Christian places of worship. It will begin with a discussion of references to ‘house churches’ and alternate meeting spaces such as catacombs, before evaluating the evidence for the earliest Christian cult spaces. This will then be followed with an exploration of how the ‘Church’ evolved as a distinct architectural type imbued with sacred power. The course will encourage you to consider the ritual settings of early Christianity and to explore questions arising the relationship between ritual and its architectural context. No prior knowledge of these questions will be necessary, but the content of the course means that it will also be suitable for students on Classics, Art History and Archaeology courses.

Module aims

This module aims to:

  • introduce you to the earliest origins of Christian ritual spaces
  • explore how informal meeting places crystallized into the building types that we today recognise as churches
  • familiarise you with the study of Christian architecture and the inter-relationship between ritual and architecture
  • give you the basic tools to study early Christian architecture

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. demonstrate a knowledge of what kind of place early Christians gathered to worship and how these spaces impacted on early Christian ritual
  • 2. demonstrate an understanding of the process of how the ‘Church’ as a clearly recognisable place of worship evolved from the fourth century onwards

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. gain an understanding of how to talk about early Christian architecture and the significance of different elements of the church as a building
  • 4. learn how to discuss the relationship between ritual and place by understanding how these two elements have shaped Christian worship

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. demonstrate an ability to sustain a coherent argument over the course of an extended piece of written work, with some guidance
  • 6. demonstrate an ability to plan and deliver a presentation to the group to demonstrate personal communication skill and the ability to deliver information to others in a clear and coherent manner

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • the earliest sources mentioning worship such as the Acts of the Apostles and the Apocryphal New Testament
  • the earliest archaeological traces of Christianity in locations such as the Roman catacombs
  • an evaluation of the evidence for early house churches, with especial reference to the earliest securely dated house-church at Dura Europos in Syria
  • look at the evidence for the earliest purpose-built churches and explore at how they moved from their fourth century prototypes through to the exceptional monuments built in the sixth century, such as Hagia Sophia in Constantinople

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching22Seminars, 2 hours per week over 11 weeks
Scheduled learning and teaching11Discussion group, 1 hour per week over 11 weeks
Scheduled learning and teaching1Tutorials, half hour feedback on essay plan, half hour feedback on case study preparation
Guided independent study266Preparation for seminars, presentation and assessed work and private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Submission of essay plan2-4 A4 pages2, 3, 5Tutorial
Submission of case study plan1 A4 page2-5Tutorial

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Presentation in seminar1010 minutes1, 4, 6Written feedback
Essay604000 words1-5Written feedback
Case study302000 words3-5Written feedback and tutorial

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Presentation in seminarScript/slides of presentation1, 4Refer/Defer period
EssayEssay1-5Refer/Defer period
Case studyCase study3-5Refer/Defer period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

  • • Edward Adams, Almost Exclusively Houses? The Earliest Christian Meeting Places (Bloomsbury, 2013)
  • Thomas F. Mathews, The Clash of Gods: a reinterpretation of early Christian art (Princeton, 1999)
  • Jonathan Z. Smith, To Take Place: Towards Theory in Ritual (Chicago, 1987)
  • Michael L. White, Building God’s House in the Roman World: architectural adaptation among pagans, Jews and Christians (Trinity, 1996)

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Key words search

Art History, Archaeology, Catacombs, Church, House Churches, Ritual

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