While the gradual development ofa specific Christian architecture parallels the development ofdistinctively Christian iconographic motifs, one reason for the relatively slower emergence of the former is undoubtedly a lack of economic or social resources. Construction or renovation of buildings requires more financial means than the manufacture of small art objects, and additionally it requires both land and a great deal of skilled labour of various kinds. The establishment of a church building, not to mention its renovation, also presumes a degree of public acceptance, even if the buildings were privately owned and maintained.
At the same time (and contrary to their borrowings from the motifs of pagan iconography), early Christians seem intentionally to have avoided using worship spaces that looked like typical pagan temples or shrines. And when they began to build new structures, they deliberately adopted a particular design that came out of the surrounding secular, instead of religious, culture. Apart from wanting to distinguish their worship from that of the traditional gods (and the idolatry they associated with it), Christians would have found typical temple architecture impractical for their kind of assembly and their developing liturgical ceremonies. Roman temples were essentially designed for public rites that mainly took place out of doors. Such temples tended to be located in main city squares, and their rituals included public processions and open-air sacrifices. Although such buildings were a main feature of the urban landscape, they were not meant to house large gatherings. The inner sanctum (cella) of pagan temples was not a place for communal worship, but a small room that housed a cult statue. By contrast, early Christian communities consisted of voluntary and initiated members who met in regular assemblies and whose rituals needed to be out of the public view.
Based on these needs alone, however, Christian meeting spaces might have been like those used by other voluntary associations, including the clubs, burial societies (collegia) and mystery cults popular in late antiquity. Like early Christians, these groups held exclusive gatherings where members shared a meal and performed a variety of rituals. Their activities were secret and thus required interior, private spaces. The devotees of the god Mithras were such a group. Gathered in small groups, they met in small, windowless chambers that featured benches along their long walls that served as dining couches. Like Christians and Jews, their meeting places (mithraea) often were renovated homes. The mithraeum in Dura Europos was first built into a single room and eventually expanded to the whole house.28
28 White, Social origins of Christian architecture, i, 47-59; Snyder, Ante pacem, 140-52.
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