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date: 17 January 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Extant examples of early Christian art allow scholars to evaluate the relationship between ceremonial actions and the decor of the physical environment in which they transpired. Wall paintings in tomb chambers, relief carvings on sarcophagi, floor and wall mosaics, and other embellished objects were not simply didactic or indiscriminate decorative schemes, they depicted, enhanced, and interpreted the activities that were enacted in their presence. In such places, viewers were also participants, and thus the images they saw contributed a core part of their sensory perception of as well as a reflection upon the ritual’s purpose and meaning. This chapter considers the different ways that visual art in ritual spaces sometimes represents elements of certain early Christian practices as well as other instances in which the design and decoration of the spatial context provide a kind of commentary on the activity taking place within it. In some cases, the imagery in ritual environments may even serve as the continuing performance of the ritual itself, even after the living actors have departed.

Keywords: altar, anointing, baptistery, catacomb, Eucharist, funerary meal, imposition of hands, orant, sanctuary, sarcophagus

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