© Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg & Kurpik, Jakob (2019); Licence: CC BY-NC-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/)

Architecture as Holy Space in Late Antiquity

University of Vienna,  1st and 2nd April 2022


Organisers: Basema Hamarneh and Davide Bianchi

Institut für Klassische Archäologie
Universität Wien
Franz-Klein-Gasse 1, 1. Stock, Seminarraum 12
A-1190 Wien

The workshop will be held at the institute, please send an email to register to Klass-Archaeologie@univie.ac.at

You will find us here: (Mobiler Stadtplan Wien)


FRIDAY, 1st APRIL 2022


Keynote Lecture: Sible de BLAAUW (Radboud-Universität Nijmegen)

Architecture and Liturgy in an Early Christian Perspective

Was the Early Christian church a functional building? Functionality has always been seen as a determining factor in the genesis of the public church building. It would be the liturgy that made the church building so different from the pagan temple and also to a large extent from the synagogue. However, that the need for architectural display also played a role in the process has long been recognized from the architectural history side. Recently, more attention has also been paid to the aspect of the sacrality of the early church building, although the theological argument that a Christian church by definition cannot be a temple still prevails. In this lecture, we will once again test the current approach to the Early Christian church building against the historical and liturgical sources and against the language that the architecture itself speaks about it.


Dinner for invited guests



Basema HAMARNEH (Universität Wien)




Chair: Davide BIANCHI


Anne MICHEL (Université Bordeaux Montaigne)

Saint-Seurin von Bordeaux: Entstehung eines Kultzentrums in Aquitanien

Die Kirche Saint-Seurin in Bordeaux entwickelte sich schrittweise aus einem spätantiken Mausoleum, das in einer vorstädtischen Nekropole des 4. Jahrhunderts errichtet worden war. Die heutige Kirche wurde im 12. Jahrhundert erbaut und bis zum 18. Jahrhundert vielfach verändert und erweitert. Der Entdeckung des spätantiken Mausoleums in der Krypta der mittelalterlichen Kirche Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts folgten verschiedene archäologische Untersuchungen, von denen die wichtigsten 1909-1910 und 1964-1969 stattfanden. Die Forschungen wurden Ende der 1990er Jahre und 2014-2015 wieder aufgenommen, wobei neue archäologische Untersuchungsmethoden eingesetzt wurden (Bauforschung mit stratigraphischer Analyse des Mauerwerks und der älteren Grabungen, physikalisch-chemische Analysen wie Radiokarbondatierungen und optisch stimulierte Lumineszenz von Mörteln, Georadar). Durch sie gelang es, die schrittweise Entwicklung des Mausoleums von der Totengedenkstätte zum liturgischen Kultort und schlieβlich zur frühmittelalterlichen Krypta nachzuzeichnen. Sie lieferten auch genauere Informationen zur Datierung dieses Transformationsprozesses zwischen dem 4. und 9. Jahrhundert.


Jenny ABURA (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg)

Exclusive "Sacred Areas" in Late Antique Churches on the Iberian Peninsula

In recent years, the number of early Christian churches (4th to 7th centuries) excavated and studied on the Iberian Peninsula has increased. The buildings are very heterogeneous in typology, geographic location and function. For this reason, the presentation focuses on a few Christian monuments and on examining the exclusive "sacred places" in their context, often referred to as sanctuarium. The "sacred areas" are located at the east side of the buildings and have different shape (semi-circular, rectangular). The altar is usually located inside the semi-circular or rectangular apse, as evidenced by the traces in the floor. The choir area is mostly rectangular and separated from the rest of the church by barriers. The floor level of the naves is in comparison with the sanctuarium lower and/or accentuated by a special floor. The barrier and sometimes corridors restricted access to the clergy and excluded the believers from the "sacred areas".
Although forbidden, church burials were very common, some could be associated with holy persons or relics and some privileged persons were buried next to them (ad sanctus). Some anthropological studies have shown that the majority of these people are elderly and male, possibly members of the clergy.
Only in one case was the starting point for the construction of the building a pre-existing memoria or martyrium. Mostly highlighted graves can be observed, but it is hardly possible to identify the venerated person. In other cases, sources report memorial monuments whose location is unknown.
Dealing with the questions of why there are sacred spaces in sacred spaces and what their heterogeneity implies offers an interesting starting point for further research.



Coffee break

Chair: Basema Hamarneh


Marlena WHITING (JGU Mainz)

Sacred Architecture in Sixth-Century Constantinople

In Book I of his work The Buildings (dated c. 550), Procopius of Caesarea provides an account of the building works of Emperor Justinian in the imperial capital, Constantinople. The majority of this account is given over to the description of sacred architecture: according to Procopius, Justinian built or restored 33 churches, 5 hospices, and one monastery in the city and its environs. In this paper I will examine how Justinian’s building programme contributed to the constitution of sacred space in 6th-century Constantinople. I will examine the scope of Justinian’s interventions: the extent to which Justinian built new buildings that shaped the sacred landscape of the city, or merely restored existing ones. I will also address how Procopius’ specific literary slant omits certain types of sacred architecture (like monasteries) and obscures the religious valence that other buildings might have possessed (like the Great Palace). I will consider how the use of specific architectural innovations for Justinian’s new foundations (e.g. the introduction of many new centralized churches) contributes to the debate on the relationship between form and function of sacred architecture in Late Antiquity.


Katharina PALMBERGER (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Eine Wüste voller Kirchen – byzantinische Sakralarchitektur in der Negev (Israel)

In der Wüste Negev, im heutigen Israel, gab es in der Spätantike einige reiche, prosperierende Städte, zum Beispiel Shivta, Mamshit und Avdat. In jeder dieser Städte finden sich mehrere, zum Teil sehr große, Kirchen, die einen sehr distinktiven Stil in ihrer Architektur und Bauornamentik aufweisen. Dieser ist homogen und schlicht gehalten, und durch die gesamte Negev hinweg einheitlich gestaltet.
In meinem Vortrag werde ich, vor allem am Beispiel der Stadt Shivta, die Besonderheiten der Sakralarchitektur in der Negev herausarbeiten. Ich werde die Struktur und die Entwicklung der Kirchen beleuchten, sodass ein Bild davon entsteht, wie in der Spätantike die Wüste erblühte.



Sacred Spaces at the Margins: Early Christianity in Adulis (Eritrea)

Recent excavations carried out in Adulis (Eritrea), a city of the Aksumite Kingdom, have led to the rediscovery of two early Christian churches in the town, which had at least three churches in total. Thanks to radiocarbon analysis, both structures can now be precisely dated to the 6th and early 7th century. The findings from Adulis can be framed in the wider scenario of the processes of Christianization in the Late Antique Horn of Africa, showing how both autochthonous and external factors contributed in shaping the sacred spaces of the ‘new’ religion. Moreover, the archaeological data has also shown how these spaces acted, in the longue durée, as places of displaying for different religious transitions, becoming in the Middle Ages the set of the Islamic presence.




B. Hamarneh – D. Bianchi

Final remarks