Last updated
Classical aedicula shrine from Lilybaeum, with sign of Baal Hammon, signs of Tanit and caduceus Niche-shaped aedicula.jpg
Classical aedicula shrine from Lilybaeum, with sign of Baal Hammon, signs of Tanit and caduceus

In ancient Roman religion, an aedicula (plural aediculae) [lower-alpha 1] is a small shrine, and in classical architecture refers to a niche covered by a pediment or entablature supported by a pair of columns and typically framing a statue, [1] [2] the early Christian ones sometimes contained funeral urns. [3] Aediculae are also represented in art as a form of ornamentation. The word aedicula is the diminutive of the Latin aedes , a temple building or dwelling place. [1] The Latin word has been Anglicised as "aedicule" and as "edicule". [1] [2]


Classical aediculae

Many aediculae were household shrines (lararia) that held small altars or statues of the Lares and Di Penates. [4] The Lares were Roman deities protecting the house and the family household gods. The Penates were originally patron gods (really genii) of the storeroom, later becoming household gods guarding the entire house.

Other aediculae were small shrines within larger temples, usually set on a base, surmounted by a pediment and surrounded by columns. In ancient Roman architecture the aedicula has this representative function in the society. They are installed in public buildings like the triumphal arch, city gate, and thermae. The Library of Celsus in Ephesus (2. c. AD) is a good example.

From the 4th century Christianization of the Roman Empire onwards such shrines, or the framework enclosing them, are often called by the Biblical term tabernacle, which becomes extended to any elaborated framework for a niche, window or picture.

Gothic aediculae

Gothic facade of Exeter Cathedral, with rows of figures in aedicular or tabernacle frames above the door, and two above the crenellations Cathedral of exeter.jpg
Gothic facade of Exeter Cathedral, with rows of figures in aedicular or tabernacle frames above the door, and two above the crenellations

In Gothic architecture, too, an aedicula or tabernacle frame is a structural framing device that gives importance to its contents, whether an inscribed plaque, a cult object, a bust or the like, by assuming the tectonic vocabulary of a little building that sets it apart from the wall against which it is placed. A tabernacle frame on a wall serves similar hieratic functions as a free-standing, three-dimensional architectural baldaquin or a ciborium over an altar.

In Late Gothic settings, altarpieces and devotional images were customarily crowned with gables and canopies supported by clustered-column piers, echoing in small the architecture of Gothic churches. Painted aediculae frame figures from sacred history in initial letters of illuminated manuscripts.

Renaissance aediculae

Classicizing architectonic structure and décor all'antica, in the "ancient [Roman] mode", became a fashionable way to frame a painted or bas-relief portrait, or protect an expensive and precious mirror [6] during the High Renaissance; Italian precedents were imitated in France, then in Spain, England and Germany during the later 16th century. [7]

Late 18th-century Doric aedicula on Skerton Bridge, Lancaster, Lancashire Skerton Bridge, Lancaster, England - aedicula detail.JPG
Late 18th-century Doric aedicula on Skerton Bridge, Lancaster, Lancashire

Post-Renaissance classicism

Aedicular door surrounds that are architecturally treated, with pilasters or columns flanking the doorway and an entablature even with a pediment over it came into use with the 16th century. In the neo-Palladian revival in Britain, architectonic aedicular or tabernacle frames, carved and gilded, are favourite schemes for English Palladian mirror frames of the late 1720s through the 1740s, by such designers as William Kent.

Aediculae feature prominently in the arrangement of the Saint Peter's tomb with statues by Bernini; a small aedicule directly underneath it, dated ca. 160 AD, [8] was discovered in 1940. [3]

Other aediculae

Similar small shrines, called naiskoi , are found in Greek religion, but their use was strictly religious.

Aediculae exist today in Roman cemeteries as a part of funeral architecture.

Presently the most famous aedicule is situated inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in city of Jerusalem.

Contemporary American architect Charles Moore (1925–1993) used the concept of aediculae in his work to create spaces within spaces and to evoke the spiritual significance of the home.

See also


  1. Also: "ædicule" (pl. ædiculæ)

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ancient Greek architecture</span> Era of architecture

Ancient Greek architecture came from the Greek-speaking people whose culture flourished on the Greek mainland, the Peloponnese, the Aegean Islands, and in colonies in Anatolia and Italy for a period from about 900 BC until the 1st century AD, with the earliest remaining architectural works dating from around 600 BC.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pediment</span> Element in classical, neoclassical and baroque architecture

Pediments are gables, usually of a triangular shape. Pediments are placed above the horizontal structure of the lintel, or entablature, if supported by columns. Pediments can contain an overdoor and are usually topped by hood moulds. A pediment is sometimes the top element of a portico. For symmetric designs, it provides a center point and is often used to add grandness to entrances.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lares Familiares</span> Ancient Roman household deities

Lares Familiares are guardian household deities and tutelary deities in ancient Roman religion. The singular form is Lar Familiaris. Lares were thought to influence all that occurred within their sphere of influence or location. In well-regulated, traditional Roman households, the household Lar or Lares were given daily cult and food-offerings, and were celebrated at annual festivals. They were identified with the home to the extent that a homeward-bound Roman could be described as going ad larem.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Niche (architecture)</span> Architectural recess in a wall

A niche in Classical architecture is an exedra or an apse that has been reduced in size, retaining the half-dome heading usual for an apse. Nero's Domus Aurea was the first semi-private dwelling that possessed rooms that were given richly varied floor plans, shaped with niches and exedrae; sheathed in dazzling polished white marble, such curved surfaces concentrated or dispersed the daylight.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Outline of classical architecture</span> Overview of and topical guide to classical architecture

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to classical architecture:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roman temple</span> Temples of the Roman Republic and Empire

Ancient Roman temples were among the most important buildings in Roman culture, and some of the richest buildings in Roman architecture, though only a few survive in any sort of complete state. Today they remain "the most obvious symbol of Roman architecture". Their construction and maintenance was a major part of ancient Roman religion, and all towns of any importance had at least one main temple, as well as smaller shrines. The main room (cella) housed the cult image of the deity to whom the temple was dedicated, and often a table for supplementary offerings or libations and a small altar for incense. Behind the cella was a room or rooms used by temple attendants for storage of equipment and offerings. The ordinary worshiper rarely entered the cella, and most public ceremonies were performed outside where the sacrificial altar was located, on the portico, with a crowd gathered in the temple precinct.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sant'Andrea al Quirinale</span> Church in Rome, Italy

The Church of Saint Andrew on the Quirinal is a Roman Catholic titular church in Rome, Italy, built for the Jesuit seminary on the Quirinal Hill.

A miniature shrine, also referred to in literature as a portable shrine,pocket shrine, or a travel altar, is a small, generally moveable shrine or altar. They vary greatly in size and architectural style, and by which region or culture produced them.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lares</span> Guardian deities in ancient Roman religion

Lares were guardian deities in ancient Roman religion. Their origin is uncertain; they may have been hero-ancestors, guardians of the hearth, fields, boundaries, or fruitfulness, or an amalgam of these.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Villa Barbaro</span> Building in Veneto, Italy

Villa Barbaro, also known as the Villa di Maser, is a large villa at Maser in the Veneto region of northern Italy. It was designed and built by the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, with frescos by Paolo Veronese and sculptures by Alessandro Vittoria, for Daniele Barbaro, Patriarch of Aquileia and ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I of England and his brother Marcantonio, an ambassador to King Charles IX of France. The villa was added to the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1996.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ciborium (architecture)</span> Canopy or covering that covers the altar in a church

In ecclesiastical architecture, a ciborium is a canopy or covering supported by columns, freestanding in the sanctuary, that stands over and covers the altar in a basilica or other church. It may also be known by the more general term of baldachin, though ciborium is often considered more correct for examples in churches. Really a baldachin should have a textile covering, or at least, as at Saint Peter's in Rome, imitate one. There are exceptions; Bernini's structure in Saint Peter's, Rome is always called the baldachin. Early ciboria had curtains hanging from rods between the columns, so that the altar could be concealed from the congregation at points in the liturgy. Smaller examples may cover other objects in a church. In a very large church, a ciborium is an effective way of visually highlighting the altar, and emphasizing its importance. The altar and ciborium are often set upon a dais to raise it above the floor of the sanctuary.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Macellum of Pompeii</span> Mall at the forum of Pompeii

The Macellum of Pompeii was located on the Forum and as the provision market of Pompeii was one of the focal points of the ancient city. The building was constructed in several phases. When the earthquake of 62 CE destroyed large parts of Pompeii, the Macellum was also damaged. Archeological excavations in the modern era have revealed a building that had still not been fully repaired by the time of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sacellum</span>

In ancient Roman religion, a sacellum is a small shrine. The word is a diminutive from sacrum. The numerous sacella of ancient Rome included both shrines maintained on private properties by families, and public shrines. A sacellum might be square or round.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sala dei Cento Giorni</span>

The Sala dei Cento Giorni is a large frescoed gallery or room in the Palazzo della Cancelleria or Chancellery in Central Rome, Italy. The frescoes epitomize the Mannerist style of Giorgio Vasari and his studio.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Church of Atalaia</span> Church in Centro, Portugal

The Church of Atalaia is a church in the civil parish of Atalaia, municipality of Vila Nova da Barquinha, in the Centro region of Portugal. The Renaissance-era religious building, has been molded by successive layers of Mannerist and Baroque decorative and structural elements, that include the portico, but whose origin dates to the Gothic architecture of the early 16th century. The unique central tower, Baroque azulejo tile-work and 16th century pulpit are important characteristics of this parish church.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arch of Caracalla (Djémila)</span> 3rd-century Roman triumphal arch at Djémila in Algeria (Cuicul)

The Arch of Caracalla is a Roman triumphal arch located at Djémila in Algeria (Cuicul). It was built during the early 3rd century. The arch, with a single span (fornix), was placed on the road leading to Sitifis. It constituted the entrance to the city's Severan forum.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arch of Trajan (Timgad)</span>

The Arch of Trajan is a Roman triumphal arch located in the city of Timgad, near Batna, Algeria. It was built between the later 2nd century and the early 3rd century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Montemirabile Chapel (Santa Maria del Popolo)</span>

The Montemirabile or Saint John the Baptist Chapel, otherwise the Baptistery is the first side chapel in the left aisle in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Palace Tomb</span> Tomb in Jordan

The Palace Tomb is a Nabataean tomb in the Petra Archaeological Park. It is situated among the Royal Tombs, a line of prominent monumental facades on the east cliffs flanking the valley in which the city lies. At 49 meters wide and 46 meters tall, its rock-hewn façade is one of the largest in Petra. The tomb's name is derived from its supposed resemblance to a Roman palace design popularized by Nero's Golden House, as well as its wide and richly decorated structure... The descriptive name is based on its appearance today, rather than historical evidence for its use by royalty or occupation as a palace. The title “Palace Tomb” is recorded in the earliest catalog of tombs in Petra.


  1. 1 2 3 "aedicula, n." OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2020, Accessed 29 September 2020.
  2. 1 2 "aedicule, n." OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2020, Accessed 29 September 2020
  3. 1 2 Murray & Murray 1998.
  4. Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Aedicula". Encyclopædia Britannica . Vol. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 244.
  5. Fullerton, Mark D. (2020). Art & Archaeology of The Roman World. Thames & Hudson. p. 124. ISBN   978-0-500-051931.
  6. Metropolitan Museum: tabernacle frame, Florence, ca 1510
  7. "National Gallery of Art: Tabernacle frames from the Samuel H. Kress collection". Archived from the original on 2009-10-06. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  8. O'Callaghan, Roger T. "Vatican Excavations and the Tomb of Peter." The Biblical Archaeologist 16.4 (1953): 70-87.