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§ 108. Baptisteries, Grave-Chapels, and Crypts.

Baptisteries or Photisteries,11851185   Φωτιστήρια, places of enlightening; because the baptized were, according to Heb. vi. 4, called “enlightened.” chapels designed exclusively for the administration of baptism, are a form of church building by themselves. In the first centuries baptism was performed on streams in the open air, or in private houses. But after the public exercise of Christian worship became lawful, in the fourth century special buildings for this holy ordinance began to appear, either entirely separate, or connected with the main church (at the side of the western main entrance) by a covered passage; and they were generally, dedicated to John the Baptist. The need of them arose partly from the still prevalent custom of immersion, partly from the fact that the number of candidates often amounted to hundreds and thousands; since baptism was at that time administered) as a rule, only three or four times a year, on the eve of the great festivals (Easter, Pentecost, Epiphany, and Christmas), and at episcopal sees, while the church proper was filled with the praying congregation.

These baptismal chapels were not oblong, like the basilicas, but round (like most of the Roman temples), and commonly covered with a dome. They had in the centre, like the bathing and swimming houses of the Roman watering places, a large baptismal basin,11861186   Κολομβήθρα, piscina fons baptismalis. into which several steps descended. Around this stood a colonnade and a circular or polygonal gallery for spectators; and before the main entrance there was a spacious vestibule in the form of an entirely walled rectangle or oval. Generally the baptisteries had two divisions for the two sexes. The interior was sumptuously ornamented; especially the font, on which was frequently represented the symbolical figure of a hart panting for the brook, or a lamb, or the baptism of Christ by John. The earliest baptistery, of the Constantinian church of St. Peter in Rome, whose living flood was supplied from a fountain of the Vatican hill, was adorned with beautiful mosaic, the green, gold, and purple of which were reflected in the water. The most celebrated existing baptistery is that of the Lateran church at Rome, the original plan of which is ascribed to Constantine, but has undergone changes in the process of time.11871187   In it, according to tradition, the emperor received baptism from pope Silvester I But this must be an error; for Constantinedid not receive baptism until he was on his death-bed in Nicomedia. Comp. § 2, above.

After the sixth century, when the baptism of adults had become rare, it became customary to place a baptismal basin in the porch of the church, or in the church itself, at the left of the entrance, and, after baptism came to be administered no longer by the bishop alone, but by every pastor, each parish church contained such an arrangement. Still baptisteries also continued in use, and even in the later middle ages new ones were occasionally erected.

Finally, after the time of Constantine it became customary to erect small houses of worship or memorial chapels upon the burial-places of the martyrs, and to dedicate them to their memory.11881188   Hence the name μαρτύρια, martyrum memoriae, confessiones. The clergy who officiated in them were called κληρικοὶ μαρτυρίων, martyrarii. The name capellae occurs first in the seventh and eighth centuries, and is commonly derived from the cappa (a clerical vestment covering the head and body) of St. Martin of Tours, which was preserved and carried about as a precious relic and as a national palladium of France. These served more especially for private edification.

The subterranean chapels, or crypts, were connected with the churches built over them, and brought to mind the worship of the catacombs in the times of persecution. These crypts always produce a most earnest, solemn impression, and many of them are of considerable archaeological interest.

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