The Latin form, templum, from which the English temple is derived, originally signified an uncovered area marked off by boundaries; especially the place marked off by the augurs to be excepted from all profane uses. Among the Remans the precincts of a temple were always quadrangular in ground plan; hence the so-called temple of Vesta, one of the most famous sanctuaries in Rome, being circular in plan, was not strictly a temple, but only an oedes sacra, or sacred building. When the augurs had determined the boundaries of a temple-enclosure, the boundaries could not lawfully be interrupted except at one point, which was to serve as an entrance. To mark these boundaries no walls were needed; a formula spoken by the augur was sufficient, and from this ceremony came the phrase effari locum, literally, "to proclaim a place", hence, to define and dedicate.
It is certain that the Indo-Germanic peoples originally had no buildings for the worship of their gods, but worshipped the gods upon mountains, as Herodotus expressly says of the Persians, or believed the supernatural beings were present in groves or trees. Consequently among the ancient Germans the conception of a grove was identified with that of a temple. Among the Greeks, also, the worship of trees seems to be indicated by the word for temple, naos, which according to some authorities originally signified "tree" or "tree trunk". It is certain that the Greeks believed that at Dodona they hear the voice of the gods foretelling the future from the rustling of the sacred oaks. In the Homeric age, the temple as a space set apart and containing an altar, which was perhaps shaded by a group of trees, was more commonly found than the temple built by man. If actual temples are mentioned by Homer, as at Troy and the fabulous city of the Phæacians, the circumstance is probably attributable to oriental influence. The pagan Germans were never able to bring themselves to give up their worship of the gods in groves to any such extent as the Greeks and Remans did under the influence of the East. Still the German peoples were hardly entirely without temples, any more than the Scandinavians, although these temples could only have been of wood. The beginnings of stone temples among the Germans probably go back to the first Christian centuries and are attributable to the influence of their neighbors, the Gauls.
When new temples were built precincts already consecrated to the divinity were preferably chosen. It was also customary to select the highest spot in a city, the acropolis, as the general preference at that time was for high, open spaces. Further the kind of divinity had also influence on the choice of the spot: thus Zeus preferred the heights, Mars the marketplaces, Hercules the gymnasium, others, the fortified castle, the gates of the city, the plain. If the temple could not be erected on an open space dedicated to the divinity, it was customary to surround the temple by an enclosed precinct, whereby it was separated from all that was profane. Still other buildings were frequently inside this enclosure, as the houses for the priests, or the stalls for the sacrificial animals. Vessels containing water were placed at the entrance; from these, those entering sprinkled themselves to be purified from all guilt, as nothing impure was permitted to enter the precincts.
As a rule a Greek temple faced east. The point towards which a Roman temple faced varied, according to the theory of H. Nissen, who investigated a large number of these temples in respect to this matter. He claimed that the position of the front depended on the altitude of the sun of the feast day of the respective god. Nissen started from the assumption that the Greeks and Romans regarded the gods and manifestations of the world-preserving spirit, and as such subordinated them to the original symbol of the world-spirit, the sun. Consequently, according to his theory, the temples were so placed that on the day settled on the calendar as the birthday and feast day of the god the rays of the rising sun fell along the axis of the temple and thus also on his statue. This theory suffers, however, from the fatal uncertainty as to the date the day of dedication fell on. Moreover, the instances in which it has lately been possible to determine the unknown god occupying a temple of known position, so as to test the correctness of this hypothesis, have proven unfavorable to it. [Nissen, "Templum" (Berlin, 1869)]. At the same time, however, it remains a fact that the orientation of the temple was universally customary, just as it was later in the case of the Christian church.
Among the Romans when the building of the temple was completed it was dedicated to the divinity by the public authorities or by a person specially delegated for this office, while the priests only pronounced the formulæ without personally completing the sacred act. The dedication adhered permanently to the soil which was released by it from all other religious obligations and was withdrawn from profane use. The anniversary of the dedication was celebrated annually by a sacrifice.
Among the equipments of the temple was a massive altar, sacrificial tables, movable heaths for fire, sacrificial utensils and other objects, which were dedicated at the same time as the temple. They formed a temple property that could not be sold. However, in times of necessity, especially in war, these treasures were often melted down, as were the costly church utensils of the medieval era and of later periods. The doorkeeper, who permitted visitors to enter the temple at stated times, also guarded the treasures.
The massive altar, as mentioned above, did not stand in the temple but before it. Either it was built upon a high stone platform, and thus united architecturally with the temple, or it stood in front of the steps or in the portico. There was, as a rule, only one sacrificial table in the temple and only one altar in front of it. The cella of the temple contained the most important object, the statue of the divinity, which stood on a pedestal against the rear wall opposite the entrance. In the earliest period it was made of wood or clay, later it was cast from bronze or made of marble. Besides the statue of the god to whom the temple was dedicated, statues of other gods were at times placed in the temple, partly as ornaments, partly because of their connexion with the principal god.
Taking their use as the basis of classification, three kinds of temples may be distinguished: temples for worship, for use in connexion with the agones, or festival games, and for the mysteries. The temple for worship was small and its cella contained only the statue of the god that was the object of veneration; it served religious uses exclusively. This temple frequently had connected with it the temple for festival games which served for the solemn crowning of the victor in the national competitive contests, and as the place for keeping the apparatus for the festivals. The temples of the mysteries were used by the initiated for the celebration of the secret cults, and differed from others, so far as the scanty remains permit a judgment, both in extent and form. Such temples were to be found, for instance, at Eleusius and at Samothracia. As has just been said, the temple contained only the statue of the god; it existed not so much for men as for the gods. It was exclusively the house of the god to whom it was dedicated. Still the god was pleased when at national festivals men appeared in his sanctuary with prayers and incense, and thus these days became religious as well as national festivals.
Again, because the objects placed in the temple were more secure, it served as a treasury both for the State and for private persons. From 438 B.C. The public treasury of Athens was kept in the Parthenon. Naturally the temple also contained the votive offerings presented to the gods, as statues, lamps, wreaths, rings, and bracelets. A list of these objects was annually compiled, and once in four years it was engraved in marble; some fragments of such marbles are still in existence. Sometimes, too, the temple contained the mint.
Besides material things men also found security and protection in the temple against threatening danger. Every temple was a asylon, that is, it was inviolable, and none dared to drive a malefactor away from the altar unless such a one wished to draw down the wrath of the gods upon himself. All temples did not grant the same protection: only certain temples had the privilege of unconditional security. Still there were ways of making the right of asylum ineffective, as was shown in the case of the Spartan Pausanius. During the reign of Tiberius the great number of asylums in Asia Minor was a subject of complaint.
As to the form and manner of construction of the temple, we must in the first place not imagine that the Greeks and Romans at all times built for the gods those magnificent structures that even today all men of taste admire. The earliest sanctuaries of the gods were cave-temples, if grottoes and crypts deserve this name at all. Even in a later age the worship of Mithras was preferably celebrated in grottoes. Related to the natural cave-temples are the artificial rock-temples, of which magnificent examples are still to be found in India. A third form, found especially in Assyria, Mexico, and Peru, may be called tower, or pyramidal temples, because the actual sanctuary is placed on a truncated pyramid. The fourth, finally, is the classical form of Greeks and Romans. It is a development of the megaron, or ruler's house, of primitive times, which consisted only of a large hall with portico. This portico was formed by the projecting side-walls of the hall and was ornamented in front with two columns.
Having thus briefly considered the subject as a whole, we will now examine somewhat more closely the kinds of temple used by various civilized nations. This is all the more necessary to guard against identifying the temple of the Greeks with that of other peoples. The discussion, however, must be brief, because temples, both pagan and Christian, have always been the highest achievements of architecture, and have therefore been treated incidentally in other articles. The oldest architectural remains are those of Egypt. The main point of interest here is the structure of the great temples of the eighteenth to the twentieth dynasties (about 1530 - 1130 B. C.). Of special importance are the ruins of temples at Thebes or the present villages of Luxor and Karnak. The Egyptian temple is not an organic structure complete in itself; instead of unity there are the following distinct parts: dromos, enclosing wall, pylon, peristyle, hypostyle, and sekos. The temple of the Egyptians therefore consisted of a large complex of buildings and the temple precincts, the whole surrounded by a massive wall, and reached by a broad avenue (dromos) bordered by figures of sphinxes and rams. Between the temples of Luxor and Karnak this avenue for processions was nearly a mile and a quarter in length and nearly seventy-five feet wide. In the enclosing wall, which at Karnak was about thirty-two feet wide, there were several gigantic gateways called pylons, flanked by tower-like buildings. These led into the sacred precincts, within which was a lake. On certain days the statue of the god was rowed round this lake in a golden bark. A second pylon led to the peristyle, or protikos, a quadrangular open space containing covered halls with columns; a third pylon led into the hypostyle, or large covered colonnade. The hypostyle was called "the hall of manifestation", and only "the enlightened" were permitted to enter it, the lower classes of the population might only come as far as the peristyle. On the farther side of the hypostyle there were still other large halls which led ultimately to the actual sanctuary, or sekos, in which the divinity was represented by a statue or some symbol; only the king, or his representative, the high priest, could enter the sekos. Beyond the sanctuary were other large halls and chambers for keeping the apparatus for the festivals. A peculiarity of this extended series of sacred buildings is that the greater the distance from the entrance the narrower and lower the structure, so that the sekos is only a small dark chamber.
The huge size and rich equipment of Egyptian temples is explained by the fact that they were monuments of the piety of the ruler, royal houses of prayer; consequently the king alone had the right to enter the sanctuary. For this reason the paintings and reliefs on a sunken background (coelanaglyphic), with which the temple walls were richly ornamented, presented in the most varied forms the homage and worship paid to the ruler. The ruler also showed the depth of his piety by the magnificent festivals which were connected with the temple.
The architecture of the temple was in harmony with the obscure, mysterious, and sensual religious conceptions of the Egyptians. The temple was an inorganic conglomeration of structures fitted the one into the other, that only arouse our astonishment by their size and magnificence. It is hardly necessary to say that no rigid system prevailed in the plan of either the Egyptian temples or those to be mentioned further on, and that there were small temples as well as large.
The Chaldean temples differed essentially from those of the Egyptians; if in the later the chief extent was horizontal, in the former it was vertical. The large temples of the Chaldeans were constructed so as to form a series of terraces or steps or something like a pile of rectangular prisms, decreasing in size from the base up. According to Herodotus, the temple of Bel at Babylon, built in a series of terraces, measured at the base two stadia (1214 feet) each way. On this broad base the tower-like structure rose in seven stories which were topped by the actual sanctuary. The upper stories were reached by means of an exterior stairway or an inclined roadway. Half-way up there was a chamber where those who were mounting could sit down and rest. This peculiar form of architecture was certainly influenced by astrology which had so authoritative a position in the Chaldeo-Assyrian religion. The temples raised on terraces were constructed in three, or five, or more stories, according to the importance of the divinity. Besides these there most certainly must have been smaller houses of one story for the gods, though of this no positive proof has yet been discovered. Temples raised on terraces have also been found in Mexico and Peru, as, for instance, at Tehuacan and Santiago Guatusca.
The Indian temples are principally grottoes or caves. They are generally constructed in one or two forms: either hewn out of the rock and remaining connected with the main mass, or, cut away from the surrounding mass of rock so as to stand alone. To the first class belong largely the Buddhist temples (chaitya), while the latter form is preferred by the Brahmins. The more developed ground-plan of the Buddhist chaitya resembles in some points the plan of the early Christian basilica. It is a quadrangular space, its length much greater than its width, and has a kind of apse opposite the entrance. The inner space is divided into several naves by pillars which follow the line of the apse. In the apse is the dagoba, a circular mound like a grave, terminating at the top in a hemisphere with a ti or tee (stone in the form of an altar). The dagoba is used to hold relics of Buddha, and the entire tumulus is covered by a large umbrella. Noted cave-temples are to be found at Karli in the Chatt mountains (second century B. C.), at Agunta, and at Pandu-Lena. The detached temple consists sometimes of several buildings and halls connected by stairs and bridges. These buildings have been cut out of the parent rock so as to stand in a court surrounded by columned cloisters. Such a temple is the wonderful structure of Kailas (Seat of the Blessed) at Allora, a work of the ninth century. Sometimes the temple is of small dimensions, as that at Mahavelliopore on the Coromandel Coast which is hewn out of a detached rock; the ground-plan is a quadrangle, and it rises in several stories like a pyramid built in several terraces.
The typical Greek temple stood alone on a broad foundation platform, built on all sides in terraces, which is called the crepidoma. The temple consisted, generally, first, of the naos, or cella, which was a rectangular enclosed space for holding the statue of the god; second of the pronaos, a portico or vestibule in front of the cella with which it was connected by a door, while to the front it had open columns with rows of spaces between; third, the posticum, a portico behind the cella, and corresponding to the pronaos. Large buildings contained two further structures, the opisthodomos, a chamber between the cella and the osticum, and fifth, the peristyle, a covered walk with a system of columns surrounding the temple and open on the outer side. These two last-mentioned parts of the temple were probably added in the seventh century B. C.
The nature of the Greek temple varied with its ground-plan. The simplest form was called the temple with antæ (templum in antis), antæ signifying pilasters which form the terminations of walls. If the two side-walls of the cella extend a little beyond the transverse wall, and these ends of the side-walls are finished with antæ, then these give the name to the entire structure. Two columns generally stand in the space between the two antæ. The sense of symmetry led to the same construction at the rear without there being any change in the name. If the portico were formed merely by a row of columns without the aid of walls it was called a prostyle temple; if the same construction were also placed at the rear of the building it was amphiprostyle. The actual creation of the Greek mind was the peristyle, in which the entire temple was surrounded by a row of columns that carried the projecting beams of the roof. A second, inner row of columns was generally arranged at the front and back of the building. If the columns were replaced by engaged columns on the walls of the cells, the temple was a pseudo-peripteral temple. A temple was called dipteros if it were surrounded by a double colonnade, and psuedo-dipteros when the inner row of columns was not used. A circle of columns with a roof over them, but without a cella, formed a monopteral temple. A third method of designating or distinguishing the temples is by the number of columns in front, thus temples are called tetrastyle, hexastyle, octastyle, that is having five, six, or eight columns.
Up to the seventh century B.C. The method of building was very simple: the walls of the cella were made of unburnt brick resting on a stone base, the columns were of wood, for originally the Greek temple in its essential parts was not built of stone. In the buildings of better construction the walls were ornamented with terra-cotta tiles, and the columns were covered with precious metals. The earliest temples were built in the Doric style; this was followed in the sixth century by the Ionic style that came from Asia Minor, and later by the Corinthian style. One style, however, never entirely supplanted the other. If in the Doric temple the impression made was that of massiveness, the Ionic temple converted a sense of agreeable lightness and grace. The effect produced by the Greek temple was not that of gigantic size, as in the Egyptian, or of colossal mass, as in the Assyrian; it arose from the harmonious relation between all its members, by the spiritualizing of the style of architecture and the ornamentation, as well as the careful execution of all parts, even those least seen. Thus it became a model for all succeeding centuries, which always return to it after they have tried for a time new architectural designs of their own. The Romans were the first to adopt the plan of the Greek temple, but they impressed their character upon it in several ways: the foundation platform was frequently omitted, or was replaced by a podium without any steps except those leading to the entrance; the front was emphasized by prolonging the portico and increasing the number of columns. The finely balanced design of the Greeks was sacrificed to ostentatious display of material and the huge size of the structure. The round temple is peculiar to the Romans, who greatly developed it. Among the temples of this style is one of the most important masterpieces of Roman architecture, the Pantheon, as well as several small, graceful structures like that at Tivoli.
However important a Greek or Roman temple may be architecturally, still it is essentially nothing more than a beautiful and stately private house, a dwelling-place of the divinity, not a house of prayer and a place for the people to offer sacrifice. In this is made evident the marked difference between the temple and the Christian church. From the beginning the Christian church was intended to hold all those who believed and its interior was divided into sanctuary and nave for the clergy and the laity. It contained in itself the fruitful seed which enabled it in the course of centuries to develop, even architecturally, far beyond the classical temple. In the latter, excepting in the prostyle temple, the front had hardly any distinctive characteristic, in the peripteral, amphiprostyle, and other temples the back and front were alike. On the other hand, the façades of many Christian churches are works of the finest finish and highest architectural value. Although the temple contained several chambers within, yet this fact exercised no actual influence on its external construction, while in the Christian church, either of the Romanesque or of the Gothic style, the interior arrangement is easily recognized from the external construction. It is a striking fact, and perhaps, one that is not to be explained entirely by the dislike of the early Christians for the places of heathen worship, that from the beginning the model chosen for the Christian church was not the classic temple, but the basilica, which, as the court and place of exchange, was intended to hold large numbers of people.
The three great national festivals of the Jews — the Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles — were the occasion of special liturgical service of the Temple (Exodus 23:14, 17; 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16). Other feasts could be celebrated by local observance. Not so these three national feasts. All males were supposed to appear in Jerusalem on these occasions: "in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose, that his name may dwell there" (Deuteronomy 16:6). It was during the Passover, while the lambs for the Pasch were dressed, that the Levites in the Temple chanted the Hallel (Psalms 113-118; Vulgate 112-117). These same Psalms were repeated during the Paschal meal, — the first two after the second cup, the remainder after the fourth cup.
The ordinary temple liturgy is not clear to us. Scant and obscure details are preserved in the Sacred Text. The people gathered in the courts of the temple to receive instruction from the prophets and to join them in prayer (Isaiah 1:12-15). The Deuteronomic custom was that the Torah should be read to the people in the Temple at the feast of the Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). After the exile, Esdras brought back this custom (Nehemiah 8:5-8). And yet, not even the reading of the Torah was the chief purpose of the Temple; it was essentially "a house of prayer for all nations" (Isaiah 56:7); prayer to Jahweh was its chief purpose. It was in the Temple of Silo that Anna prayed for a man child (1 Samuel 1:11). In the first Temple of Jerusalem, Solomon said his inspiring prayer for Israel (1 Kings 8:12-53). Apart from the Psalms, set forms of prayers were very rare. In such set forms, the priest offered the first-fruits and tithes before the altar of the Temple (Deuteronomy 26:5-10); and the high-priest laid the sins of Israel upon the heads of the scape-goat (Leviticus 16:21). During the morning and evening sacrifices the Levites sang praises to the Lord (1 Chronicles 23:30). These praises would seem to have been the Psalms, since the leader of the Levites in the time of Nehemias was a son of Asaph (Nehemiah 9:17). The titles of many of the Psalms give evidence of their liturgical use in the Temple or the "House of Jahweh" that preceded the temple. The Psalms of Asaph and of the sons of Korah (see PSALMS) at one time made up a liturgical collection for temple service. The sons of Asaph were among the temple Levites (1 Chronicles 25:1). The sons of Korah were also a levitical family of temple singers (2 Chronicles 20:19). In fact, there can be no doubt but the psalms are evidence of a gradual development of a liturgical hymnal for temple service.
Certain elements of synangogal liturgy (see SYNAGOGUE) probably have their origin in temple service. The "Shema" (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), together with the Ten Commandments and several benedictions, were recited by the priest at the morning sacrifice (Tamid. V). Josephus (Ant. Jud., IV, viii, 13) dates this synangogal practice from the time of Moses.
ZENNER, Die Chorgesänge im Buche der Palmen (Freiburg, 1896); ZENNER-WEISMAN, Die Psalmen nach dem Urtext (Münster, 1906). The latter text edits the text over much, and has consequently been put on the index (1911).
APA citation. (1912). Temple. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14495a.htm
MLA citation. "Temple." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14495a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by M. Donahue & Larisa Vidmar.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is feedback732 at newadvent.org. (To help fight spam, this address might change occasionally.) Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.