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5. The Nave

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

5. The Nave

The nave, or main body of the church, was called by different names derived from the uses to which it was applied. It was called the oratory of the people; because there they met for religious worship, reading the Scriptures, prayer and the preaching of the word. It was also called the place of assembly, and the quadrangle, from its quadrangular form in contrast with the circular or elliptical form of the chancel.

In a central position stood the ambo,* suggestum lectorum, or reader's desk, elevated on a platform above the level of the surrounding seats. This was sometimes called the pulpit and the tribunal of the church, in distinction from the * or tribunal of the choir. All public notices, letters missive, and documents of public interest, were also communicated from the reader's desk. The choristers and professional singers*, were provided with seats on or near this desk. The seats in front and on either side were occupied by the believers or christian communicants.

The gospels and the epistles were chanted from before the altar. The sermon was also delivered by the preacher standing on the platform of the sanctuary before the altar, or on the steps leading to it. But afterwards, when larger churches were erected, it became difficult for the preacher to make himself heard from this station. To remedy this inconvenience a platform was erected for the speaker in front of the bema, within the body of the nave, and surrounded by railings called cancelli, which gave to this platform the name of chancel. Such was the origin and appropriate signification of the term. Afterwards, it became in common with many others, the name of all that space which was allotted to the altar, and to those that ministered at the altar.

The body of the church was very early divided in separate parts, and specific seats assigned to the several classes into which the audience were divided. The object of this careful division was to prevent disorder and confusion, and to invite a fuller attendance. Such an arrangement, indeed, was indispensably necessary in connection with their various classes of believers, penitents, catechumens, etc., and the services adapted to each. But between the Eastern and Western churches there has never been any uniformity in the internal arrangements of their places of worship.

The rules of the primitive churches required the separation of the sexes in the church, and this was generally observed. The men occupied the left of the altar on the south side of the church, and the women the right, on the north. They were separated from one another by a veil or lattice. In the Eastern churches the women and catechumens occupied the galleries above, while the men sat below. In some churches a separate apartment was also allotted to widows and virgins.

The catechumens occupied a place next to the believers, arranged in the order of their several classes. But they were required to withdraw at the summons of the deacons – ite, catechumeni! In the rear of the catechumens sat the penitents who had been allowed a place again within the church. In the seating of the assembly and preservation of order, the ostiarii, acolyths, subdeacons, deacons, and deaconesses all bore a part. 

A certain part of the church styled *, etc., has been the subject of much dispute; but it is generally understood to denote the seat within the chancel, which was appropriated to the emperors, kings, princes, etc. 

The walls of the church were surrounded by ante-chambers and recesses, for the accommodation of the assembly, for private reading, meditation and prayer. There were aisles surrounding the nave, which separated it from these chambers. The nave was further separated from the sanctuary by a partition of lattice-work and a curtain which could be drawn so as to screen the sanctuary entirely from the view of the assembly. The sanctuary was usually concealed from the view of the audience except at the celebration of the Lord's supper, or when the sermon was delivered from that place.

Cyprian, Ep. 33, 34.

Constit. Apost. lib. ii. c. 57: viii. c. 20: Cyril, Hierosol. Pro Catech. c. 8: Euseb. ii. 17.

Constit. Ap. ii. c. 57: August, de civ. Dei, ii. c. 28; Cyril, Hier. Pro Catech. c.8: Chrysost. Horn. 74 in Math.: Steph. Duraudi, De Vit. eccl. lib. i. c. 18.

Constit. A p. ii. 57, 53.

Codinus, De offic. c. 17: Leo Allatins, De tempi. Graec. ep. § 5: Gretserus, in Codinum, lib. iii. c. 12.

Paulin Not. ep. 12: Concil Trull, c. 97: Leonis. Imp. Nov. 73.

Chrysost. Horn. HI. in Ep. ad Ephes.: Evagrius, h. e. vi. 21: Paul. Nol. nat. Felic. 111.

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


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