Churches shapes in the Holy Land

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While in most of the world the form of the Church is an oblong  - a basilica, in the Holy Land most churches have a general round / octagonal / polygon structure that is not a straight rectangle. And this is not a coincidence.

After Constantine's proclamation of Christianity in 324 as an official religion, Christians sought a suitable church structure that could accommodate many believers.

The structure of the Roman basilica, which was a secular structure that did not relate to any religion, was adopted. One of the niches in the building -  the Apse became the site of the altar, almost always facing east, and the second meeting west, was canceled and replaced by the main entrance to the middle of the building, and two additional entries on both sides.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the first significant ecclesiastical structure built in the form of a circle, and according to the importance of it, many other churches in the world simulate its shape.

*** Today the central structure is combined with small adjacent basilicas to allow the congregation to sit and pray in front of an altar (each Christianity stream in its area).

But why was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher built in a round shape?
Helena, the mother of Constantine, the Roman emperor, visited the Holy Land at 326 and found the place of Jesus' burial (some argue that the burial position is in a place called the Tomb Garden, a kilometer north of the church).
She decided to sanctify it and build round structure around the empty tomb of Jesus.

In other words, the whole/part of the structure, sometimes even from the outside, indicates that there is something important in its center. And since Jesus was born, lived most of his life and died in the Holy Land, many churches were established (even much later on) in a manner that indicates that in the middle of them there is something important to note.

Some known examples of this kind of structure, except the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, are:

  • The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which itself is built as a basilica (an elongated structure) but adjacent to it was built a large octagonal structure that was made around the Cave of the Nativity.
    During the period of Justinian the first, the structure of the church was changed from the foundation, a transept (a passageway to Nave in a church or a cathedral that forms a Cross sign shape) was established with a large apse, and the cave of the Nativity was incorporated into the basilica itself.
  • The Church of the Ascension is a church on the Mount of Olives that preserve the memory of Jesus' ascension to heaven forty days after his resurrection. In the center of the church, is an octagonal chapel made up of eight pillars, with the monument of the stone bearing the feet of To indicates the exact place from which Jesus ascended to heaven.

The same is true for churches established in the name of other saints associated with Christianity like:

  • Church of St. John the Baptist is a Catholic church located at the top of the hill in the Jerusalem's Ein Karem neighborhood. It is named for John the Baptist, who according to Christian tradition was born in the building where the church was built.
    Today the church is built in a classic Crusader style, which includes a basilica and in the apse (north) of the church is a cave, in which John the Baptist was born.

There are many other examples of this subject from the Holy Land and around the world.

In the future, when you stand outside an ecclesiastical structure or look at a picture of a such, you can almost confidently assume if that is a church for a meeting/worship only or that another event is connected/occurred at this place.


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