The Use of Sacred Space in Hellenistic, Roman, and Christian Religious Sites




Bell, Kelsey

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My thesis investigates the use of sacred space in the Greco-Roman and early Christian religious traditions. I argue that there was a mutually reinforcing relationship between religious beliefs and practices on the one hand, and the structure of ritual space on the other. Rituals and beliefs determined the size and shape of environment in which worshippers approached the sacred, and this, in turn, influenced their experiences and beliefs. The thesis is organized as a series of four case studies. Chapter one examines the Hellenistic Temple of Apollo at Didyma in Asia Minor. In this chapter, I explore the ways in which oracular activities at the site contributed to the temple’s unique architectural features. Furthermore, I argue that these very features supported the credibility of the oracle by creating a spiritually charged atmosphere. In chapter two, I turn to Rome and to the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the Roman Forum, investigating how the establishment of this site as a memorial of an important battle in Roman history paved the way for this sacred space to perform important political functions as well as religious. Finally, in chapter three, I explore two early Christian sites built over the tombs of saints: the basilica of Sant'Agnese Fuori le Mura and the basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura. I argue that the Christian veneration of saints and the localization of the holy led to the development of closely related basilica and martyrium complexes.