When studying the history of architecture, religious buildings hold the middle ground for most researchers and enthusiasts. It is because the cultures and societies that built these buildings placed their religious beliefs at the center of their community life, making their places of worship the central and most important structures in their community. In some cultures, like the Mesopotamians, their temples serve as both a sacred building and the seat of government.
Religious architecture varies from culture to culture, as not all civilizations subscribe to the same religious beliefs. Even those that embraced the same religion as Christianity do not celebrate their beliefs in the same manner. Likewise, the architecture in their places of worship is unique depending on the aesthetics, cultural patterns, and the activities of the community.
Religious Buildings, Structure, and Inclusivity
Nowadays, religious buildings like churches and mosques are places where a whole community could come together and worship. This was not always the situation when it came to the ancient civilizations. Synagogues, mosques, temples, and churches held the images and important artifacts of their religions, but they were not open for public usage. The exclusivity of these ancient religions shows in their place of worship, which are commonly built for the extravagance of their deities and the entrance of religious personnel or persons of privilege.
For example, in India and ancient Egypt, religious structures can only be entered by priests as they are believed to be the residences of the deities themselves. While in Ancient Greece, people are allowed to glimpse the images of their deity; however, worship rites are only done outside the temple. In Mayan and Aztec culture, even a few prominent people in the community are allowed to approach their temple’s immediate vicinity.
Even though a lot of mainstream religions today are communal and inclusive, only a few of the early faiths encouraged communal participation, and these are Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Judaism. The aspect of a whole community gathering can be reflected in these buildings. Their places of worship involved an ample communal space, accounting for numerous worshippers, which faces the focal point of the service – the altar for Christians and the direction of Mecca for Muslims.
The various needs of the religions and the community activities that are influenced by it can also be viewed in the changing architecture. Examples of which include the addition of the minarets to Muslim mosques, the holy gates found in Buddhist structures, and the chapter houses, bell towers, and baptistries for Christian churches.
Shrines and Funerary Art
Shrines are holy places that commemorate the life of a religion’s founder, gods, saints, or deities. These buildings contain religious images and artifacts that are of significance to the faith and the god or person that the building celebrates. In the Christian religion, the most famous shrines are the Church of the Nativity located in Bethlehem which commemorates the life of Jesus Christ, and the lives of the Apostles and the early Church Fathers such as the famed St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Funeral art is also key elements when it comes to religious buildings and religious architecture. They reveal a lot about the religion’s views on the soul, death, and the afterlife. The grandiose pyramids of Ancient Egypt, which serves as the resting places of the pharaohs, and the white marble mausoleums of Hellenistic Greece, a ruler’s tomb, are beautiful examples of funeral architecture.