Christian Atrium House
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Christian Atrium House
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Woman Anoints Jesus

Vitruvian ManVitruvius, (BC 81-15 AD) a civil engineer and architect, and the Roman author of "De Architectura" pointed out that everyone had the right to enter a Roman atrium house vestibule, a main room, and a colonnade garden. Vitruvius, by the way, probably inspired the famous drawing of the human body by Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519 AD) called "Vitruvian Man" from a description in his writings. The only places reserved as private space for the family in a Roman home were the bedrooms, dining rooms, and baths! Saint Paul reinforced this point when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 14.23, "therefore, the whole church comes together and outsiders or unbelievers enter the house uninvited."

Free to Enter

Row of Modern HousesWe, who are twenty first century householders, might question how strangers could have got into our living room. But as far as the Corinthian atrium houses went, Paul felt no need to explain that anyone was free to enter and welcome to walk through the central corridor into the atrium.

Woman anoints Jesus

Woman anoints JesusIn a similar situation, in Mark 14.3-9, a woman anointed Jesus with perfume made of pure nard while he was reclining in a dining room in an atrium or central room of a Roman house. Spikenard, also called nard, nardin, and muskroot, was a class of aromatic amber-colored essential oil derived from a flowering plant which grew in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India, so it was very precious in Jesus day. The Gospel writer in Luke 7.37 commented only that "she knew he is reclining in the house." Commentators have wondered how she got into the colonnaded garden in the first place and the best answer seemed to be that she walked in uninvited through an open front door!✞

Modern Concept

Plan of Atrium HouseThe English word "house" in North American and English post industrial societies communicates a mistaken notion to us, because we experience public work space as separate from our private homes, and our boundaries are secured by locked front doors. We must imagine ourselves back in a radically different social and cultural context in order to gain some perception of an early assembly in one of these atrium houses where the front door was open during the day, people were free to enter and walk through and that there was a shop at the front selling the wares produced by the family.✞

Christian Missions

Atrium HouseAn Atrium house offered a great advantages, as well as some disadvantages, for the early Christian mission. One central function of the atrium house was crucial for understanding the Pauline mission in these settings. The Greek house was concerned with creating a world of privacy, of excluding the inquisitive person passing by but the Roman atrium house invited him or her in and put its occupants on conspicuous show. There was always an opportunity for conversation about spiritual things.✞

"Christian Atrium House"
by Ron Meacock © 2018

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