Christian Atrium Houses
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A Woman Anoints Jesus 170

Architect Vitruvius

Vitruvian ManVitruvius, (BC 81-15 AD) a civil engineer and architect, and the Roman author of "De Architectura" pointed out that everyone has 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 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 reinforces this point when he writes 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 even got into the living room. But as far as the Corinthian atrium houses go, Paul feels 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 anoints Jesus while he is reclining in a dining room in an atrium or central room of a Roman house, and the Gospel writer in Luke 7.37 comments 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 seems again to be that, uninvited, she walked in through an open front door!✞

Modern Concept of House

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 is open during the day, people are free to enter and walk through and that there is a shop at the front selling the wares produced by the family.✞

Advantages for Christian Missions

Atrium HouseAtrium houses offered great advantages, as well as disadvantages, for the early Christian mission. One central function of the atrium house is crucial for understanding the Pauline mission in these settings. The Greek house is concerned with creating a world of privacy, of excluding the inquisitive person passing by but the Roman atrium house invites him or her in and puts its occupants on conspicuous show.

"Christian Atrium Houses"
by Ron Meacock © 2017

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