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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Basilica, noun, is a Latin word. Plural of basilica is basilicas (1). It has two major usages in modern English (1). The literal meaning of basilica is “A Royal Palace” (1). It is used to refer to a large building or hall which served as a platform for public assembly and used for a court of justice in ancient Rome (1). It was usually built beside a forum (2). 
The most common use of basilica can be found in classical Roman architecture. In Roman architecture, Basilica is a public building (2). Typically Basilica is the name given to a roofed hall used for legal proceedings, banking and for commerce (2). There are many variations of Roman Basilica but historically these are rectangular buildings with elevated central approach to the high alter with single story side aisles on both sides (2). Long sequence of columns called colonnades divides the aisles from the central part of the structure (2). The elevated central approach is termed nave and commonly has lights coming in from the clerestory (3). A wooden truss roof shelters the whole structure (2). Roman senate house or council chambers were roomed behind the basilica. A shrine for the gods who were thought to guard a particular community was also present behind the basilica (4). Variations of Roman basilica includes presence of multiple side aisles or the construction of the second story gallery above the aisles. Originally, basilicas are said to have been two or three times its width (2). 
The architectural form of Basilica has been used as the model for Christian churches (5). It started with Roman empire handing down a hall of justice for religious use and then the design was copied for making more chuches (1). These churches were especially common in western europe in the years after Constantine recognized Christianity as a religion (5). Specifically, the seven churches in Rome, built by Constantine were called basilicas (1). Later, all churches were improperly called basilicas (1). These churches often had an outer courtyard or an atrium followed by three or more doorways that led into the main building (5). 
The word Basilica has a Greek origin, basilikē (1). One of the earliest usage of Basilica as a word can be dated back to 1541 in T. Elyot’s writing, Image of Governance, where basilica is mentioned,  “A basilike or place, where civile controueesies were herde and iuged” (1).  Use of basilica to refer to a church can be traced back to the year 1563 (1).  J. Griffiths talked about basilica in his book Two Bks. Homilies, “ 256 Called Basilicae, eyther for that the Greeks used to call all great and goodly places Basilicas, or that the high and everlasting King..was served in them” (1). Here the word is used to describe a building which is used for Christian worship (1).
  1. Oxford English Dictionary Online. (Oxford University Press). “Basilica, n.” Accessed November 16th, 2012. http://www.oed.com.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/view/Entry/15935?redirectedFrom=basilica#eid
  2. Gagarin, Michael. Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. (Oxford University Press) Accessed November 16th, 2012. http://www.oxfordreference.com.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/view/10.1093/acref/9780195170726.001.0001/acref-9780195170726-e-164?rskey=6G94rp&result=2&q=basilica
  3. Clarke, Michael. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Term (Oxford University Press) Accessed November 16th, 2012. http://www.oxfordreference.com.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/view/10.1093/acref/9780199569922.001.0001/acref-9780199569922-e-172?rskey=6G94rp&result=5&q=basilica
  4. Darvill, Timothy. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archeology. (Oxford University Press) Accessed November 16th, 2012. http://www.oxfordreference.com.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/view/10.1093/acref/9780199534043.001.0001/acref-9780199534043-e-400?rskey=6G94rp&result=4&q=basilica
  5. Livingstone . E. A and Cross. F.L. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. (Oxford University Press) Accessed November 16th, 2012. http://www.oxfordreference.com.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/view/10.1093/acref/9780192802903.001.0001/acref-9780192802903-e-698?rskey=BXVKU6&result=15&q=basilica

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