Early Christian architecture defines most European structures built between 350 and 525 A.D. However some historians believe that construction of early Christian churches began even before 100 A.D. These churches established new architectural norms, construction features, used different types of facade treatments, and incorporated new materials. As such, early Christian architecture provided benefits not only for religious architecture, but also for the secular. On today’s list, we are going to show you some of the earliest and most dynamic early Christian designs. These are 25 incredible examples of early Christian architecture.
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Basilica di San Marco. Italy, Rome. 336 A.D.
Not to be confused with St. Mark’s cathedral in Venice, Basilica di San Marco is a minor basilica in Rome and was built for St. Mark the Evangelist whose remains are situated under its main altar. Its raised sanctuary demonstrates its ancient basilica format and its interior shows elements of early Christian architecture because of its wooden ceiling and apse mosaics.
Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare en Classe. Ravenna, Italy. 538 A.D.
Widely regarded as one of the most outstanding examples of the earliest Christian basilicas, the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare en Classe is famous for the simplicity and purity of its design. It features a nave and just two aisles.
Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo. Ravenna, Italy. 504 A.D.
Erected by Ostrogoth King Theodoric the Great, this basilica was dedicated in the 5th century to ‘Christ the Redeemer.’ The apse and atrium of this structure have undergone several modernizations but the mosaics of its lateral walls and 24 columns are well preserved.
Santa Constanza. Rome, Italy. 350 A.D.
This 4th century church in Rome was built during the reign of Constantine I as a mausoleum for his daughter Constantina. It has a circular form and features an ambulatory that surrounds a central dome. The original structure had colored stone veneers on its walls. It is considered a prime example of the Early Christian architecture.
Basilica Ulpia. Rome, Italy. 98-117 A.D.
The Basilica Ulpia is an old Roman civic building that is regarded as one of the most important ancient basilicas in Rome. Unlike most Christian basilicas, it served no religious function but was dedicated to the administration of commerce and justice during ancient times. It features a great central nave that has four side aisles and clerestory windows, as well as rows of columns and semicircular apses.
Church of Our Lady of Zion. Ethiopia. 4th century.
Considered the most important church in Ethiopia, the Church of Our Lady of Zion is said to contain the Ark of the Covenant. The original structure was constructed during the reign of the first Christian emperor of Ethiopia, Ezana. Today, it serves as a center of pilgrimage for Ethiopian Christians.
Apran Basilica. Aparan, Armenia. 390 A.D.
Located in the Aragatsotn Province of Armenia, the Basilica of the Holy Cross is one of the earliest Armenian churches in Aparan, Armenia. The original structure was destroyed but it was partly restored to its original form in 1877.
Jubail Church. Al-Jubail, Saudi Arabia. 4th century
This church in Saudi Arabia is an old Nestorian church that was only discovered in 1986. The government of Saudi Arabia hides this building from tourists and even locals to minimize damage.
Church of St. George, Sofia. Sofia, Bulgaria. 4th century.
Constructed by the Romans, the Church of St. George in Sofia, Bulgaria is an Early Christian red brick rotunda and is the most ancient building in the city. Located at the center of the ancient town of Serdica, it features a cylindrical domed structure with a square base. It is most famous for its 12th to 14th century frescoes.
The Echmiadzin Mother Cathedral.
Known as the first cathedral built in ancient Armenia and considered the oldest cathedral in the world, the Etchmiadzin Cathedral was completed in 303 by the Armenian king Tiridates III. It’s currently considered a World Heritage Site as of 2000. The cathedral is 108 ft long and 98 ft wide and stands at over 89 ft. It has a cruciform plan with four free-staning piers, four projecting apses, and a central cupola.
San Nazaro in Brolo. Milan, Italy. 382 A.D.
Known as the oldest Latin cross church in the whole of Europe, San Nazaro was originally built as an offering to the apostles. The plan of this church features a Greek cross that has apses on its arms. Under its altar are the relics of the apostles and the ceiling of its nave has wooden spans.
Saint Pierre-aux-Nonnais Basilica. Metz, France. 380 A.D.
This structure was originally built to form part of a Roman spa complex but was later converted into a chapel. Known as the oldest church in France, it now serves as one of the most popular chapels of the Benedictine monastery in Europe.
Basilica of San Simpliciano. Milan, Italy. 374 A.D.
Located in the center of Milan, the Basilica of San Simpliciano is the second oldest basilica in Italy that comes in the form of a Latin cross. Its façade has arcades surmounting its portals, while its upper part features two mullioned windows and arches. The bell tower is also decorated with mullioned windows.
Basilica of San Lorenzo, Milan. Milan, Italy. 364 A.D.
The biggest rotunda church during its time, the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Milan is one of the most important places of worship in the city. It is near the Basilicas Park, on an artificial hill along the Via Ticinensis. It is surrounded by waterways and consists of a square hall with four apses.
Monastery of Saint Anthony. Eastern Desert, Egypt. 356 A.D.
A Coptic Orthodox monastery located in an oasis in Egypt, the Monastery of Saint Anthony is hidden deep in the Red Sea Mountains and is considered one of the oldest monasteries in the world. It is also one of the most prominent in Egypt because of its structure, characterized by self-contained gardens, a mill, and paintings of knights in bright colors.
Cathedral of Trier. Trier, Germany. 340 A.D.
The oldest Roman Catholic Church in Trier, Germany, the Cathedral of Trier is known for its long life span. The center of its main chapel is made of Roman brick and has five symmetrical sections. It also features an apsidal semi-cylinder on its exterior façade.
Church of Saint Apostles Peter and Pul (Novi Pazar). Stari Ras, Novi Pazar, Serbia. 4th century.
This Serbian Orthodox Church is the oldest church in Serbia. Founded during the Roman rule, it serves as the ecclesiastical seat of the Serbian church. It features massive columns and an octagonal tower that conceals an inner cupola.
Santa Maria in Trastevere. Rome, Italy. 340 A.D.
The Santa Maria Church in Trastevere is a minor basilica that is one of the oldest churches in the whole of Rome. It has a very basic floor plan and wall structure and presents 22 granite columns with Corinthian and Ionic capitals. Its interior is filled with mosaics by Pietro Cavallini.
St. Peter’s Basilica. Vatican City. 333 A.D.
Known as the largest church in the world, the St. Peter’s Basilica is also the most popular Christian church today. It is known as a place of pilgrimage especially among Catholics and is considered among the holiest Catholic sites. This church is also regarded as the greatest building of its age in terms of architecture.
Panagia Ekatontapiliani. Parikia, Greece. 326 A.D.
Also known as The Church of 100 Doors, the Panagia Ektatontapiliani is a historic church on the island of Paros. It features a main chapel that is surrounded by two chapels and it literally has one hundred doors.
Basilica of Sant’ Amborgio. Milan, Italy. 313 A.D.
The oldest basilica in Milan, the Basilica of Sant’Amborgio has a hut-shaped façade which features two orders of loggias. Its lower loggia has three arcades while its upper loggia used to be where the bishops blessed the citizens. The arcades are supported by pillars and are flanked by semi-columns.
Church of St. Peter. Antioch, Turkey. 3rd or 4th century A.D.
Considered one of the oldest churches of the Christian world, the Church of St. Peter features a cave carved into the mountainside of Mount Starius. It has floor mosaics and frescoes on the right side of its altar. It has a stone altar at its middle with a stonework platform on its top.
Etchmiadzin Cathedral. Vagharshapat, Armenia. 301 to 303 A.D.
The main cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Etchmiadzin Cathedral is one of the oldest cathedrals in the world. It was built following the adoption of Armenia of Christianity during the third century. It has wooden doors and frescoes of scenes from the Old Testament. It also has a cruciform plan with a central cupola, piers, and four apses.
Megiddo Church. Tel Megiddo, Israel. 300 A.D.
One of the oldest church buildings in the Holy Land, this church is now an archeological site. It was built during the time when Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire. Among the most notable features of this church is its large mosaic that contains a Greek inscription and several geometric figures and Christian symbols.
Dura-Europos Church. Dura-Europos, Syria. 233 to 256.
Known as the earliest identified Christian house church in Syria, this church was converted into a house of worship following the conquest of the Persians. It features a house with a separate hall-like room as well as frescoes that serve as its baptistery. Its interior is also filled with ancient Christian paintings.
If you enjoyed learning about early Christian architecture and found these early Christian churches interesting, you might enjoy these 25 fascinating examples of Islamic architecture.
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