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4. Of the Bema, or Sanctuary

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER IX. Of Churches and Sacred Places

4. Of the Bema, or Sanctuary

The bema, or sanctuary, the inner portion of the church which was appropriated to the clergy, was known by many different names. It was called the chorus or choir. from the singing of the service by the clergy, * from * to ascend, being an elevated platform, * sanctum, sanctuarium. etc., because it was the sanctuary where most of the sacred rites were performed. It was also denominated *. *. altar, * places not to he entered. Neither laymen nor females were permitted, on any occasion, to enter it; kings and emperors were privileged with a seat within this sacred enclosure, from whence it received the name of * royal palace.

The platform of this portion of the church was a semi-circular or elliptical recess, with a corresponding arch overhead, and separated from the nave by a railing curiously wrought in the form of net work cancelli, hence the name chancel. Within was the throne of the bishop, and subordinate seats on the right and left for the lower clergy. The bishop's throne was usually covered with a veil, and for this reason was styled cathedra velala . In the middle of the church stood the holy altar, or communion table,*, the sacred, mysterious, or spiritual table, in such a position as to be easily encompassed on every side. On this the sacred elements were placed in the sacrament of the Lord's supper. On one side of the altar was a small table or secretary for receiving the customary oblations previous to the sacrament; and on the other stood the *, a recess into which the sacramental vessels were conveyed to be washed and replaced before being removed to the sacristry in which they were usually kept.

In process of time, this part of the church became the depository of sacred relics, and the burial place of the sainted dead.

Concil Tolet. 4. c. 18: Isidor Hispal. Orig. lib. i. c. 3.

Euseb. h. e. x. c. 4: vii. c. 15.

Concil Laodic. c. 21. 4. Concil Laodic. c. 44.

Concil Laodic. c. 19, 44: Concil Trullan. c. 69.

Euseb. h. e. x. c. 4, 5: vii. c. 50: Gregor. Naz. Soran Anast. v. 4: Constit. Apost. ii. c. 57.

Augustin. ep. 203: Athenas. Apol. ii.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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