Old St. Peter’s
Date ca. 324-400 CE
Movement Early Christian
Located at Rome, Italy
After Christianity became formally accepted by the Empire under Constantine, work was quickly begun on public places of Christian worship. The basilica form, especially under Constantine, held the most prominence as an architectural structure, and was thus chosen as a model to accommodate a large number of visitors. It was comprised of a main aisle (or nave), side aisles, a transept, apse, and clerestory above for lighting. It was altered slightly, however, so as to place the apse and altar in a transept at the far, eastern end (borrowing the Roman tradition in their worship of the rising sun god, Apollo). The altar of Old St. Peter’s was placed directly upon the remains of Peter, one of Christ’s disciples; thus, the church is essentially his martyrium. The outer atrium was added later.
Visitors to the space would have entered through the atrium and narthex, then would have been guided by the succession of columns that composed the nave and through to the triumphal arch that distinguished the basilica’s apse from its transept. As a martyrium, the basilica’s form and structure place the focal point upon its alter.