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S. Pietro in Vincoli and the Tripartite Transept in the Early Christian Basilica

Richard Krautheimer
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society
Vol. 84, No. 3 (May 31, 1941), pp. 353-429
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/984958
Page Count: 77
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S. Pietro in Vincoli and the Tripartite Transept in the Early Christian Basilica
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Abstract

Although remodelled several times from the XV through the XVIII centuries, the church of S. Pietro in Vincoli in Rome preserves considerable remnants of its Early Christian structure. As can be shown from these remnants the edifice was originally a basilica with a nave bounded by two arcades of eleven arches each, with two aisles, a transept and one single apse. Traces of walls and of an arch above the XV century vaults indicate that in a first project the transept was to be divided into three parts: a center bay slightly wider than the nave was to communicate with two wings by a series of three arches on either side; these arcades were to carry upper walls with three openings each. While the building was still in progress this first project was replaced by an arrangement in which the three divisions of the transept were marked off only by four projecting piers. This was the arrangement preserved up to the XV century. A comparative analysis of the documents and of the structure goes to prove that this basilica should be dated between 420 and 450. While the church was consecrated to the princes of the Apostles there are indications that it succeeded an older Christian building, possibly a community house dedicated to Saint Peter alone; from the VI century on the new church gradually changed its dedication back to Saint Peter. Remnants of older structures which were found in 1878 below the apse are published for the first time from a drawing in the Lanciani collection. The tripartite transept is unique in Early Christian churches in Rome. A study of the transept of Early Christian times proves that three types have to be distinguished: the "continuous transept" which occurs only in some Roman basilicas of the IV century, the "cross transept" which is common in the Near Eastern Coastlands and the "tripartite transept" which is found in S. Pietro in Vincoli and contemporaneously in a number of basilicas on the Greek peninsula. It seems to be derived from the arrangement of pastophories flanking the forechoir, a pattern common throughout the Near East. Thus S. Pietro in Vincoli is among the earliest examples of a Near Eastern influence on Early Christian architecture in Rome.

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