Dining Room Churches
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Domus Ecclesiae 157

Early Roman Household

Cross, Staff, Chalice and PatenArchaeologists have uncovered the remains of domestic residences in Jerusalem that allow us a glimpse of the conditions under which early Christians may have met. Excavations in one area on the Western Hill in the Upper City reveal a residential district that includes some very large houses. The individual dwelling units are extensive, with inner courtyards characteristic of luxurious villas built in the Hellenistic style, that is the Greek house layout of the Roman period. This was where the noble families of Jerusalem probably lived.✞

In Homes Or In Halls

Sicyonian Gate in CorinthRalph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids in the "Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Development" explain, "Since house churches did not demand architectural alterations, their archaeological remains are undetectable unless they were subsequently incorporated into the later stages of house churches as a "domus ecclesiae" that is "churches in private homes" and/or an "aula ecclesiae" or literally a "hall of the church."

Villa Irbana or Villa Rustica

Early Roman HouseholdIn the city state of Corinth, the excavated remains of a Roman villa in the vicinity of the Sicyonian Gate, in the vicinity of Temple E and the sumptuous "Anaploga Villa" are examples of residences in which the early Christian community could have gathered. No doubt, early Christians preferred a good-sized home as the venue for a local church gathering, and the patronage system would impose on wealthy members the expectation that they should host the gathering. According to the Roman author Pliny the Elder, (23-79 AD) there were two kinds of villas, the "Villa Urbana," which was a country seat that could be reached from Rome (or another city) for a night or two, and the "Villa Rustica", the farm-house estate permanently occupied by the servants." Pliny the Elder by the way coined the phrase, "Home is where the heart is."✞

Makeshift Dining Couches

Domus Ecclesiae Wall MosaicSuch a largish group would spill out from the dining room into the main room and/or courtyard. The dining room area was designed to hold nine diners reclining on three couches arranged together as three sides of a square, with the open side toward the open inner space of the house. There was also limited space in the dining room for others sitting on chairs alongside the couches. The inner courtyard or open space was the key to flexibility for there people could be placed in any kind of arrangement, depending on space available with makeshift dining couches, tables, or seated on the ground.

"Dining Room Churches"
by Ron Meacock © 2017

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