Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

I. An open place or court before a church. It consisted of a large quadrangle with colonnaded walks on its four sides forming a portico or cloister. It was situated between the porch or vestibule and the body of the church. In the center of the atrium was a fountain or well, where the worshippers washed their hands before entering the church. A remnant of this custom still survives in the use of the holy-water font, or basin, usually placed near the inner entrances of churches in the atrium those that were not suffered to advance farther, and more particularly the first class of penitents, stood to solicit the prayers of the faithful as they went into the church. It was also used as a burying-ground, at first only for distinguished persons, but afterwards for all believers. The covered portion next the church was called the narthex and was the place for penitents. The basilicas at Ravenna seem usually to have had a closed narthex , while those of Rome were open to the West. A mosaic in S. Apollinare Nuovo Ravenna shows an open narthex closed by curtains. The atrium existed in some of the largest of the early Christian churches such as old St. Peter's at Rome in the fourth century, and Sancta Sophia at Constantinople, in the sixth. In the residences ( palatia, domus ) of the Rornan aristocracy, where the Roman Christians first worshiped, there was a threefold division, first, on entering, a court called the atrium ; then, farther in, another colonnaded court called the peristyle , and then the tablinum , where the altar was problably placed, and services conducted. (See BASILICA.) So large a fore-court to a church required an area of land costly and difficult to obtain in a large city. For this reason the old Roman atrium survived only occasionally in Eastern and Western churches. Typical examples may be seen in the churches of St. Clement, at Rome, and St. Ambrose, at Milan ; also in the seventh century churches of Novara and Parenzo.

II. In secular architecture the atrium was the principal entrance-hall and apartment in a Roman house, and formed the reception-room. It was lighted by an opening in the roof, called the compluvium , the roof sloping so as to throw the rain-water into a cistern in the floor called the impluvium . In large houses it was surrounded by a colonnade.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Jeremiah 26:1-9
1 At the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 69:5, 8-10, 14
5 God, you know how foolish I am, my offences are not hidden from ... Read More

Gospel, John 11:19-27
19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for July 29th, 2016 Image

St. Martha
July 29: "Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus." This ... Read More