St. Augustine Basilica on a Hill Overlooking Remnants of Basilica Pacis Nave and Apse
Cioffi, Paul L., 1928-2004
Christianity spread rapidly in North Africa during the 3rd century C.E. During the following century, it also became a center for the Donatist movement, splitting Christians over doctrinal and social issues. Hippo played a role in the history of early Christianity as the site of several Church councils (393, 395 and 426); and, between 395 and 430 it was the bishopric of Augustine, the great philosopher, theologian, monastic founder and opponent of the Donatist position which maintained that the effectiveness of Sacraments depended on the moral character of the minister. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that the controversy among Orthodox and Donatist Christians was played out within the boundaries of Hippo. However, the Donatist position was banned by the Conference of Carthage in 411. Remnants of the ancient Basilica Pacis date to the late 4th or early 5th C. It is not certain whether or not this structure first served Donatist Christians or whether it was built by St. Augustine and his followers. (Augustine was bishop of Hippo from 395-430). Excavations of the site are chiefly the work of Erwan Marec, a French naval officer, whose studies were published in the mid-20th C. Discoveries reveal a nave whose roof was supported by two rows of columns, thus dividing the space into three sections. The church terminated in a semi-circular apse that was raised on a platform called a bimah (or bema). A stone bench built into the apse’s wall provided seating for clergy. In the center of this bench, which is a simple version of a synthronon, is a chair (cathedra) for the bishop, the principal presider. The semi-circular apse was built into a rectangular footprint. Silhouetted on the horizon of this image is St. Augustine Basilica, built during the French colonial period (1881-1900) in a style similar to the cathedral at Carthage and Sacre Coeur in Paris. The site for the basilica marked sacred territory even in Punic times with a shrine to Tanit (4th-late 3rd C., B.C.E.). However, when the Romans took over the city, they eradicated the Carthaginian holy place and built cisterns to hold the community’s water supply. ca. June 1983
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