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Crypt

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(Or LOWER CHURCH).

The word originally meant a hidden place, natural or artificial, suitable for the concealment of persons or things. When visits to the burial-places without the walls of Rome fell into disuse there ensued a curious change. The Church, no longer able to go out to honour the martyrs, brought the martyrs within the walls, and instead of building churches above the tombs, dug tombs under the churches in which the precious relics were deposited. This was the origin, first of the confessio of the basilicas, and, at a later period, of the crypt which answered the same purpose in the churches of the early Middle Ages. In this way the Romanesque crypt is the direct descendant of the hypogoeum or excavation of the early Christian catacomb. The term crypt is sometimes used to signify the lower story of a two-storied building, e.g. the lower chapel of the Sainte-Chapelle at Paris, and, of the church San Francesco at Assisi; and in England the overground ground crypt of St. Ethelredra's Chapel in London which is all that remains of the great episcopal palace called Ely Place.

The crypt has a long and venerable history. What was done at Rome set a precedent for Christendom in general. There is an early example of a crypt at Ravenna, at Sant' Apollinare in Classe (534). At first crypts were sometimes as deepsunk as the cubicula of the catacombs themselves, e.g. in Saint-Germain, at Auxerre, and in the Chartres cathedral. Or they were but partly above ground, and were lighted by small windows windows placed in their side walls, e.g. Ernulph's crypt at Canterbury. Occasionally their floor was but little below the surface of the ground, as in the eastern crypt at Canterbury; or it was on a level with the pavement of the nave, as in San Miniato, Florence In these latter cases the crypt practically became a second or lower church, e.g. St. Faith's, under old St. Paul's, London. Such a crypt, however, entailed a raised choir; hence it is that one ascends high flights of steps to such choirs as those of San Miniato, Rochester, Canterbury, etc. Almost all the crypts now found in England were built during the Norman period, or very early, in the pointed style, That at Glasgow, however, belongs to the perfected style of thirteenth century. Here the crypt extends under and beyond the whole choir. Had there been an opening in the centre of the vault (and it is by no means clear that one was not originally intended), it would be more like a German double church than anything found in England. The earliest crypts in England are those of Hexham and Ripon. In eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries crypts developed into magnificent churches, like those of Gloucester, Rochester, Worcester, Winchester, St. Peter's at Oxford, Bayeux, Chartres, Saintes, Bourges, Holy, Trinity at Caen, Padua, Florence, Pavia, Palermo and Modena.


Sources

GAILHABARD, Ancient and Modern Architecture (London, 1844) II; CARTER, Ancient Architecture of England (London, 18877); BOND, Gothic Architecture in England (New York, 1906); BROWN, From Schola to Cathedral (Edinburgh, 1886); LOWERIE, Monuments of the Early Church (London, 1906); SPENCE, The White Robe of Churches (New York, 1905); BANISTER, A History of Arch. (New York, 1905); PARKER, Glossary of Arch. (London, 1845).

About this page

APA citation. Poole, T. (1908). Crypt. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04558a.htm

MLA citation. Poole, Thomas. "Crypt." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04558a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Wm Stuart French, Jr. Dedicated to Most Rev. John J. Russell.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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