Byzantine architecture


Christian architecture of the East which supplanted the early forms held in common by East and West, characterized by exclusive use of vaulted roofs and rejection of wood in construction, balancing of thrusts by counter-thrusts instead of dead weight, and classic Roman structural elements modified by oriental ideas, of which the most important is the dome supported on pendentives. Oriental love of splendor found expression in the decoration of floor and walls with richly colored marbles and mosaics; but sculpture was devoid of high relief and the exterior was usually of plain brick. The dome was carried either on a circular or octagonal sub-structure or on four piers and arches by means of pendentives, over the square central area of a rectangular or cruciform church. At the eastern end was a projecting apse for the chancel and altar separated from the nave by the iconostasis or screen; later a minor apse was placed at the eastern end of each aisle, and a narthex extended across the western front. The use of pendentives could be extended indefinitely to any number of domes, which also became characteristic of Byzantine churches. The style, which reached its height in the church of Saint Sophia in Constantinople (early 6th century), also appeared in the architecture of the West where the most magnificent example is Saint Mark’s, Venice, and the most notable of modern times the Cathedral of the Precious Blood, Westminster, England (consecrated, 1910). After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 the style continued in countries of the Greek Rite, becoming identified with the national church of Russia.

MLA Citation

  • “Byzantine architecture”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 30 August 2018. Web. 23 June 2021. <>