(Pl. Ambos, or Ambones.)
A word of Greek origin, supposed to signify a mountain or elevation; at least Innocent III so understood it, for in his work on the Mass (III, xxxiii), after speaking of the deacon ascending the ambo to read the Gospel, he quotes the following from Isaias (xl, 9): "Get thee up upon a high mountain, thou that bringest good tidings to Sion: lift up thy voice with strength". And in the same connection lie also alludes to Our Blessed Lord preaching from a mountain: "He went up into a mountain--and opening his mouth he taught them" ( Matthew 5:1, 2 ). An ambo is an elevated desk or pulpit from which in the early churches and basilicas the Gospel and Epistle were chanted or read, and all kinds of communications were made to the congregation; and sometimes the bishop preached from it, as in the case of St. John Chrysostom, who, Socrates says, was accustomed to mount the ambo to address the people, in order to be more distinctly heard (Eccl. Hist., VI, v). Originally there was only one ambo in a church, placed in the nave, and provided with two flights of steps; one from the east, the side towards the altar ; and the other from the west. From the eastern steps the subdeacon, with his face to the altar, read the Epistles; and from the western steps the deacon, facing the people, read the Gospels. The inconvenience of having one ambo soon became manifest, and in consequence in many churches two ambones were erected. When there were two, they were usually placed one on each side of the choir, which was separated from the nave and aisles by a low wall. An excellent example of this arrangement can still be seen in the church of St. Clement at Rome. Very often the gospel ambo was provided with a permanent candlestick ; the one attached to the ambo in St. Clements is a marble spiral column, richly decorated with mosaic, and terminated by a capital twelve feet from the floor.
Ambones are believed to have taken their origin from the raised platform from which the Jewish rabbis read the Scriptures to the people, and they were first introduced into churches during the fourth century, were in universal use by the ninth, reaching their full development and artistic beauty in the twelfth, and then gradually fell out of use, until in the fourteenth century, when they were largely superseded by pulpits. In the Ambrosian Rite (Milan) the Gospel is still read from the ambo. They were usually built of white marble, enriched with carvings, inlays of coloured marbles Cosmati and glass mosaics. The most celebrated ambo was the one erected by the Emperor Justinian in the church of Sancta Sophia at Constantinople, which is fully described by the contemporary poet, Paulus Silentiarius in his work peri ktismaton . The body of the ambo was made of various precious metals, inlaid with ivory, overlaid with plates of repoussé silver, and further enriched with gildings and bronze. The disappearance of this magnificent example of Christian art is involved in great obscurity. It was probably intact down to the time of the taking of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1203, when it was largely shorn of its beauty and wealth. In St. Mark's, at Venice, there is a very peculiar ambo, of two stories; from the lower one was read the Epistle, and from the upper one the Gospel. This form was copied at a later date in what are known as "double-decker" pulpits. Very interesting examples may be seen in many of the Italian basilicas ; in Ravenna there are a number of the sixth century; one of the seventh at Torcello; but the most beautiful are in the Roman churches of St. Clement, St. Mary in Cosmedin, St. Lawrence, and the Ara Cli.
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.
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