What is the basis for catholic sacred architecture, or sacramental architecture as I've heard it said and what are it's main components? Is this a doctrine rooted in scripture somewhere? When was sacramental architecture adopted?

From the little that I've been able to find on Google regarding it, it seems like it's just the catholic standard for its buildings--an effort to exude holiness through material things, or something like that. But I haven't been able to find more info, like when it started and why.

  • I'm not clear whether you're talking about the external structure of the building or the structures present inside the church building. Jul 16, 2014 at 16:13
  • @MattGutting Either/Or/Both/Yes. I'm just asking about architecture.
    – LCIII
    Jul 16, 2014 at 16:15
  • The "outside question" is very big, because Catholic churches can have vastly different appearances on the outside - for historical reasons as well as theological. You may want to focus on the inside of the building, where structures fall into fewer variants. Jul 16, 2014 at 16:17
  • 3
    Which Catholic architecture? Built in which century? In which country? This question is FAR too broad. There are literally hundreds of books and museums filled with this information.
    – Flimzy
    Jul 16, 2014 at 20:34
  • Yes, I have to parrot what Flimzy said. This is interesting, but it needs to be more specific. For example, what is the importance of cathedral architecture, with the nave, etc.
    – user3961
    Jul 16, 2014 at 21:45

2 Answers 2


It can be argued that the interior of many Christian Churches, especially Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran, lies in the architecture specified for the Tabernacle (The tent constructed during the Exodus) and the Temple in the old textament, where there were three area set aside for specific purposes. The area where the Altar is located in the churches I named above, especially older buildings, corresponds to the area of the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant resided, and which only the Priests of Israel entered. The main part of the church corresponds to the larger part of the Tabernacle, and the Temple, where the faithful gathered, and the foyer corresponds to the outer court, which was open to a larger number of people.

In a Christian church, the other elements of the architecture provide focal points to call the attention of the faithful to the sacraments, hence the presence of the Baptistry, or baptismal font, and location at which the Mass or communion is celebrated. In a Roman Catholic church, the location in which the Body of Christ is housed is supposed to be front and center, and in the churches I named above, a Cross or Crucifix are always present to call to the viewer's mind the salvific acts of God. Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and to a somewhat lesser extent, some Anglican and Lutheran buildings will contain representations intended to call to the viewer's mind members of the community of the faithful departed by icons, stained glass windows, or statues, including Mary, the Mother of God, the Apostles, the Mighty Acts of God, including creation, perhaps the Flood, or the other sacraments or rites. One thing all of the churches have in common (and most other protestant ones as well) is a pulpit or lectern in a prominent place, from which the word of God can be proclaimed.

These elements have been interpreted in different ways by different architects, and by different theological emphases of various Christian groups, at different times, and in different places, taking to account local materials and customs.

  • This is interesting, but do you have some sources? Especially on the part about it mimicking the description of the tabernacle.
    – user3961
    Jul 16, 2014 at 21:46

Check out the Old Catholic Encyclopedia's "Ecclesiastical Architecture" article.

For what Catholic architecture is not, see Michael S. Rose's Ugly As Sin.

  • Just randomly followed some links and hit this post, you mind expanding it a bit? Otherwise it probably should be deleted or turned into a comment.
    – Peter Turner
    Feb 7, 2017 at 17:42

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