Figure 12. Santa Sabina, exterior view (Rome) (photo: Mark L. Brack)

By the mid-third century, however, Christian communities would have found such a space too small and restrictive. Rather than gathering in small, local and exclusive groups, Christians tended to have one larger community within an urban area, under the guidance of a bishop who was supported by a staff of other church office holders including elders (presbyters) and deacons. The provision of material and economic support for groups of widows and orphans demanded storage rooms for food and clothing. The ceremonies of the liturgy involved special furniture, books and ritual implements that had to be kept secure when they weren't in use. Screens, stairs or raised platforms provided separate spaces for clergy and laity. Finally, as the ritual of Christian baptism changed from an outdoor event in a natural setting to an indoor and secret rite, it required a special room equipped with a font deep enough for immersion.29 The Christian house church at Dura Europos provides an excellent example of an early baptismal room with a large water tank at one end (fig. 6, above, p. 414).

The Constantinian era brought about the most marked stage in the evolution from renovated, existing spaces to newly built church buildings. Shortly after he signed the Edict of Milan (313 ce), Constantine launched a major church building programme in Rome and the Holy Land. The architectural plan for

29 See Davies, Architectural setting of baptism and Jensen, Living water.

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