Sunday, May 18, 2014

Shrines Built by Human Hands

Easter 6A includes the Acts account of Paul's visit to the Areopagus and his conversation about the altar to an unknown God. In Athens, a city of marble temples whose designs we still use today, Paul announces in his speech that the God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands. That statement was probably quite remarkable to the people of Athens, because their gods, they believed, did live in the classical temples they had made.

In fact, these classical temples were mostly for the divinity's residence. Classical Greek temples like the Parthenon (the "restored" replica in Nashville, TN, is shown below, left) were confusing from the outside. Note there is no clear "front" - the columns and three steps are the same on all sides. The door to the interior is hidden under the eaves of the building and behind the forest of columns. If followers couldn't find their way in, no worries. They weren't really invited. The attendants - priests, priestesses, etc. - took care of the god without having a lot of people around.

Roman builders adapted the typical Greek design. Where the Greeks had access on all four sides of the building, Roman architects directed all people to the single entrance. In the Maison Carree (in Nimes, France, shown below, center) stairs are found only on one side of the building, and even that single set of steps is flanked by huge podia, further controlling public access to the temple.

So which do you think is the style that appealed to Christians when they began to build their own buildings? Greek? Roman? Interestingly, they chose neither the Greek temple nor the Romans' interpretation of it. Instead they chose to use the basilica as the basis for their religious buildings. The basilica was a civic building, rectangular in shape, usually with a curved apse at one end. The basilica was used for public assemblies and as a court of law. Above, right, is the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe (Ravenna, Italy), which in its original form - disregard the bell tower - was a basilica plan.

In light of Paul's speech to the people of Athens it makes sense that those Christians rejected plans for temples to house gods and instead based their church buildings on a plan that was more about the work of the people.

Designed For You

In addition to studio art and art history resources, Art and Faith Matters' sister site, Lynn Miller Design (, is a source for commissioned stoles, banners, paraments and other pieces. Through that site you can also commission one-of-a-kind designs for a minister, a confirmand, church officer or just about anyone else. There are readymade stoles - no specific designs, just whatever has inspired the designer - that will change as stoles are bought, sold and replaced. The two stoles below are currently available.

In addition to stoles, Lynn Miller Design can create other pieces - from single banners to entire settings. The set pictured below are the Easter hangings for a congregation.

See Lynn Miller Design ( for specifics about these stoles and other textile pieces - banners, paraments and more. Check back for new designs.