The term cross-in-square (French, église à croix inscrite; German, Kreuzkuppelkirche) or crossed-dome denotes the dominant architectural form of middle- and late-period Byzantine
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 churches. The first cross-in-square churches were probably built in the late 8th century, and the form has remained in use throughout the Orthodox
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 world until the present day. In the West, Donato Bramante
Donato Bramante
Donato Bramante was an Italian architect, who introduced the Early Renaissance style to Milan and the High Renaissance style to Rome, where his most famous design was St...

's first design (1506) for St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica
The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter , officially known in Italian as ' and commonly known as Saint Peter's Basilica, is a Late Renaissance church located within the Vatican City. Saint Peter's Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world...

 was a centrally-planned cross-in-square under a dome
A dome is a structural element of architecture that resembles the hollow upper half of a sphere. Dome structures made of various materials have a long architectural lineage extending into prehistory....

 and four subsidiary domes.

Architectural form

A cross-in-square church is centered around a quadratic naos
A cella or naos , is the inner chamber of a temple in classical architecture, or a shop facing the street in domestic Roman architecture...

 which is divided into nine bays by four columns or piers. The central bay is usually larger than the other eight, and is crowned by a dome which rests on the columns. The four rectangular bays that directly adjoin this central bay are usually covered by barrel vault
Barrel vault
A barrel vault, also known as a tunnel vault or a wagon vault, is an architectural element formed by the extrusion of a single curve along a given distance. The curves are typically circular in shape, lending a semi-cylindrical appearance to the total design...

s; these are the arms of the "cross" which is inscribed within the "square" of the naos. The four remaining bays in the corner are usually groin-vaulted
Groin vault
A groin vault or groined vault is produced by the intersection at right angles of two barrel vaults. The word groin refers to the edge between the intersecting vaults; cf. ribbed vault. Sometimes the arches of groin vaults are pointed instead of round...

. The spatial hierarchy of the three types of bay, from the largest central bay to the smallest corner bays, is mirrored in the elevation of the building; the domed central bay is taller than the cross arms, which are in turn taller than the corner bays.

To the west of the naos stands the narthex
The narthex of a church is the entrance or lobby area, located at the end of the nave, at the far end from the church's main altar. Traditionally the narthex was a part of the church building, but was not considered part of the church proper...

, or entrance hall, usually formed by the addition of three bays to the westernmost bays of the naos. To the east stands the bema, or sanctuary, often separated from the naos by templon
A templon is a feature of Byzantine churches consisting of a barrier separating the nave from the sacraments at the altar....

 or, in later churches, by an iconostasis
In Eastern Christianity an iconostasis is a wall of icons and religious paintings, separating the nave from the sanctuary in a church. Iconostasis also refers to a portable icon stand that can be placed anywhere within a church...

. The sanctuary is usually formed by three additional bays adjoining the easternmost bays of the naos, each of which terminates in an apse
In architecture, the apse is a semicircular recess covered with a hemispherical vault or semi-dome...

 crowned by a conch (half-dome). The central apse is larger than those to the north and south. The term bema is sometimes reserved for the central area, while the northern section is known as the prothesis
Prothesis (altar)
The Prothesis is the place in the sanctuary in which the Liturgy of Preparation takes place in the Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Churches....

and the southern as the diakonikon
The Diaconicon is, in the Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Churches, the name given to a chamber on the south side of the central apse of the church, where the vestments, books, etc, that are used in the Divine Services of the church are kept .The Diaconicon contains the thalassidion...


Although evidence for Byzantine domestic architecture is scant, it appears that the core unit of the cross-in-square church (nine bays divided by four columns) was also employed for the construction of halls within residential structures.

Liturgical use

The architectural articulation of the distinct spaces of a cross-in-square church corresponds to their distinct functions in the celebration of the liturgy
Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

. The narthex serves as an entrance hall, but also for special liturgical functions, such as baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

, and as an honored site of burial (often, as in the case of the Martorana
The Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio or San Nicolò dei Greci, commonly called the Martorana, overlooking the renowned Piazza Bellini in Palermo, Sicily, southern Italy...

 in Palermo
Palermo is a city in Southern Italy, the capital of both the autonomous region of Sicily and the Province of Palermo. The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, playing an important role throughout much of its existence; it is over 2,700 years old...

, for the founders of the church). The naos is the space where the congregation stands during the service. The sanctuary is reserved for the priests. The altar stands in the central bay, or bema, which is sometimes provided with a synthronon, or bench, where the clergy may sit. The prothesis is used for the preparation of the eucharist
The Eucharist , also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance...

, and the diakonikon houses liturgical vestments and texts used in the celebration of the Liturgy.

Common variations

The architectural form and liturgical function described above correspond to the "classic" type of the cross-in-square church, which is exhibited by a number of significant monuments (for example, by the Myrelaion
Bodrum Mosque
Bodrum Mosque is a former Eastern Orthodox church converted into a mosque by the Ottomans. The church was known under the Greek name of Myrelaion .-Location:...

 in Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

). However, this classic type represents only one of a number of possible variations on the cross-in-square form.

Particularly in later Byzantine architecture, the core of the cross-in-square plan could be augmented through the addition of peripheral structures. An example is provided by the Chora Church
Chora Church
The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora is considered to be one of the most beautiful examples of a Byzantine church. The church is situated in Istanbul, in the Edirnekapı neighborhood, which lies in the western part of the municipality of Fatih...

 in Constantinople. The original 11th-century cross-in-square was expanded in the 14th century through the addition of a second narthex to the west (exonarthex, or outer narthex) and by a side chapel (parekklesion) to the south, used for burials. The ultimate plans of many other Byzantine churches resulted from a similar diachronic succession of additions about a central, cross-in-square, core; for example, Kalenderhane Camii
Kalenderhane Mosque
-External links:* * * * *...

 in Constantinople, Çanlı Kilise in Cappadocia
Cappadocia is a historical region in Central Anatolia, largely in Nevşehir Province.In the time of Herodotus, the Cappadocians were reported as occupying the whole region from Mount Taurus to the vicinity of the Euxine...

, and the Martorana
The Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio or San Nicolò dei Greci, commonly called the Martorana, overlooking the renowned Piazza Bellini in Palermo, Sicily, southern Italy...

 in Palermo. One particularly common subsidiary structure, witnessed, for example, at Kalenderhane, the Chora Church, and the Martorana, was a bell-tower.

On the other hand, a radically abbreviated, "compact" form of the cross-in-square existed, built without narthex and with the three apses adjoining directly onto the easternmost bays of the naos. This plan was particularly common in the provinces, for example in southern Italy, in Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, and in Cappadocia. In this type of church, the templon barrier was often erected along the axis of the two eastern columns, thus enclosing the three easternmost bays within the sanctuary.

A particularly important variation on the cross-in-square is the so-called "Athonite" or "monastic" plan, in which the rectangular bays at the north and south of the naos also opened onto semi-circular apses, giving the church the appearance of a triconch. This plan, often held to be typical of monastic churches, seems to have developed on Mount Athos
Mount Athos
Mount Athos is a mountain and peninsula in Macedonia, Greece. A World Heritage Site, it is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries and forms a self-governed monastic state within the sovereignty of the Hellenic Republic. Spiritually, Mount Athos comes under the direct jurisdiction of the...

 in the eleventh century; the lateral apses provided a space for the performance of antiphon
An antiphon in Christian music and ritual, is a "responsory" by a choir or congregation, usually in Gregorian chant, to a psalm or other text in a religious service or musical work....

al liturgical music by two monastic choirs. An important example of this type outside of Athos is the 14th-century church known as "Profitis Elias" in Thessaloniki.


The interior decoration of the cross-in-square church, usually executed in mosaic
Mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. It may be a technique of decorative art, an aspect of interior decoration, or of cultural and spiritual significance as in a cathedral...

 but also sometimes in fresco
Fresco is any of several related mural painting types, executed on plaster on walls or ceilings. The word fresco comes from the Greek word affresca which derives from the Latin word for "fresh". Frescoes first developed in the ancient world and continued to be popular through the Renaissance...

, evolved in close relationship to its architecture, and a "classical" system of decoration may be discerned, represented in particular by the great monastic churches of the eleventh century (for example, Daphni Monastery
Daphni Monastery
Dafní or Daphní is a monastery 11 km north-west of downtown Athens in Chaidari, south of Athinon Avenue . It is situated near the forest of the same name, on the Sacred Way that led to Eleusis...

 outside of Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 and Hosios Loukas
Hosios Loukas
Hosios Loukas is an historic walled monastery situated near the town of Distomo, in Boeotia, Greece. It is one of the most important monuments of Middle Byzantine architecture and art, and has been listed on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites, along with the monasteries of Nea Moni and Daphnion.-...

 in Boeotia
Boeotia, also spelled Beotia and Bœotia , is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Central Greece. It was also a region of ancient Greece. Its capital is Livadeia, the second largest city being Thebes.-Geography:...

). This system was defined in a classic study published in the 1940s by Otto Demus
Otto Demus
Otto Demus was an Austrian art historian and Byzantinist. He is considered a member of the Vienna School of Art History....

, which is summarized in the following account.

The mosaic decoration of a cross-in-square church may be divided into three zones defined by the architectural articulation of the interior: an upper zone, which embraces the cupolas, high vaults, and the conch of the apse; a middle zone, including the squinches, pendentives, and upper parts of the vaults; and the lowest zone, composed of the lower or secondary vaults and the lower parts of the walls. The tripartite division has cosmographic significance: the uppermost zone corresponds to heaven, the middle zone to paradise or the Holy Land, and the lower zone to the terrestrial world.

In the uppermost zone, only the holiest figures of Christianity are represented (e.g. Christ, the Virgin, and angels) or scenes that are directly related to heaven. For example, the mosaics of the central dome almost invariably represent one of three scenes: the Ascension, Pentecost
Pentecost is a prominent feast in the calendar of Ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law on Sinai, and also later in the Christian liturgical year commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Christ after the Resurrection of Jesus...

, or Christ Pantocrator
Christ Pantocrator
In Christian iconography, Christ Pantokrator refers to a specific depiction of Christ. Pantocrator or Pantokrator is a translation of one of many Names of God in Judaism...

. The middle zone is dominated by narrative scenes representing the great Christological feasts (birth, presentation at the Temple, etc.). The lowermost zone is occupied by the "choir of saints", mostly full-length standing figures, who in Demus's words "share the space" of the congregation.

In the classic system, the mosaics were composed so as to be viewed from the west of the church; that is to say, they were oriented towards the lay beholder. In accordance with this line of vision, the curved spaces of the vaults were employed to create an illusion of space when viewed from the intended angle. The decoration of the cross-in-square church was therefore integrally related to its architecture: "The Byzantine church itself is the 'picture-space' of the icons. It is the ideal iconostasis; it is itself, as a whole, an icon giving reality to the conception of the divine world order."

Origins and development

The cross-in-square church may be said to constitute a unique artistic development of the middle Byzantine period. Early Byzantine churches were predominantly basilica
The Latin word basilica , was originally used to describe a Roman public building, usually located in the forum of a Roman town. Public basilicas began to appear in Hellenistic cities in the 2nd century BC.The term was also applied to buildings used for religious purposes...

l or centrally-planned (e.g. cruciform tetraconch
A tetraconch, from the Greek for "four shells", is a building, usually a church or other religious building, with four apses, one in each direction, usually of equal size. The basic ground plan of the building is therefore a Greek cross...

 churches, octagons). The question of the origins of the cross-in-square form has therefore engaged art historians since the latter half of the 19th century, although no single account has ever received the unanimous assent of the scholarly community.

The most influential strands in the earlier research attempt to derive the cross-in-square church either from the early Christian basilica (a viewpoint advocated originally by Oskar Wulff, and followed by numerous scholars, including Alexander van Millingen
Alexander van Millingen
Alexander van Millingen was a scholar in the field of Byzantine architecture, and a professor of history at Robert College, Istanbul between 1879 and 1915. His works are now public domain in many jurisdictions.-External links:...

 and Charles Diehl) or from the cruciform churches of late antiquity (a theory first advanced by Josef Strzygowski
Josef Strzygowski
Josef Strzygowski was a German art historian known for his theory on the influence of Early Christian Armenian architecture on the early Medieval architecture of Europe, outlined in his book, Die Baukunst der Armenier und Europa...

, and later followed in various fashions by Gabriel Millet and André Grabar, among others). According to the basilical theory, the crucial intermediary buildings were the so-called "cross-domed" churches of the seventh and eighth centuries (e.g. Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia (Thessaloniki)
The Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki, Greece, is one of the oldest churches in that city still standing today. It is one of several monuments in Thessaloniki included as a World Heritage Site on the UNESCO list.-History:...

 in Thessaloniki and the Church of the Koimesis in Nicaea
İznik is a city in Turkey which is primarily known as the site of the First and Second Councils of Nicaea, the first and seventh Ecumenical councils in the early history of the Church, the Nicene Creed, and as the capital city of the Empire of Nicaea...

), while according to the latter theory the corners of cruciform churches were simply "filled in" (as for example at Hosios David in Thessaloniki).

As the discipline of art history has moved away from an evolutionary approach, the question of the "parentage" of the cross-in-square church has receded somewhat, and attention has turned to the dating of the first fully developed examples of the type. Significant in this regard are the church today known as Fatih Camii in Trilye
Zeytinbağı is a town in Bursa Province, Mudanya, Turkey, situated west of Mudanya. Trilye is a quaint township along the Marmara Sea shoreline.The area, which was inhabited since 5th Century BC, was known by the names such as “trigleia”, “bryllion” and “trilya” in the history...

, Bithynia
Bithynia was an ancient region, kingdom and Roman province in the northwest of Asia Minor, adjoining the Propontis, the Thracian Bosporus and the Euxine .-Description:...

 (dated to the early ninth century) and the so-called "Church H" in Side
Side was an ancient Greek city in Anatolia, in the region of Pamphylia, in what is now Antalya province, on the southern Mediterranean coast of Turkey...

 (probably before 800). It has been suggested that the type was developed in a monastic context in Bithynia during the late eighth and early ninth centuries; for example, the church built at the Sakkudion Monastery in the 780s by Theodore the Studite
Theodore the Studite
Theodore the Studite was a Byzantine Greek monk and abbot of the Stoudios monastery in Constantinople. He played a major role in the revivals both of Byzantine monasticism and of classical literary genres in Byzantium...

 and his uncle Platon, although known only from literary accounts, appears to have been a cross-in-square.

The influence of the Nea Ekklesia
Nea Ekklesia
The Nea Ekklēsia was a church built by Byzantine Emperor Basil I the Macedonian in Constantinople between the years 876–80. It was the first monumental church built in the Byzantine capital after the Hagia Sophia in the 6th century, and marks the beginning of middle period of Byzantine...

(New Church) in the Great Palace of Constantinople
Great Palace of Constantinople
The Great Palace of Constantinople — also known as the Sacred Palace — was the large Imperial Byzantine palace complex located in the south-eastern end of the peninsula now known as "Old Istanbul", modern Turkey...

, built around 880, has often been described as crucial to the dominance of the cross-in-square plan in the medieval period; however, the building has not survived, its actual form is much disputed, and it is by no means certain that it was a genuine cross-in-square. Whatever the reasons, the cross-in-square had come to dominate church-building by the later ninth century, perhaps in part because its relatively small scale suited the intrinsically "private" nature of Byzantine piety. The achievements of later Byzantine architecture have been described as "the elaboration of a type of church that was, in its own way, perfect." The near-universal acceptance of the cross-in-square plan in the Byzantine world does not, however, imply the stagnation of artistic creativity, as the numerous variations on the type (described above) demonstrate. These variations seem to represent, not so much a linear evolution of forms, as a series of sensitive responses to various local factors.

Already during the Middle Ages, the cross-in-square plan had spread far beyond the political borders of the Byzantine Empire. The type was adopted, and developed, in the medieval Russian sphere (i.e. in Kievan Rus'
Kievan Rus'
Kievan Rus was a medieval polity in Eastern Europe, from the late 9th to the mid 13th century, when it disintegrated under the pressure of the Mongol invasion of 1237–1240....

), and in the various independent kingdoms of the northern Balkans (for example, in the Serbian Empire
Serbian Empire
The Serbian Empire was a short-lived medieval empire in the Balkans that emerged from the Serbian Kingdom. Stephen Uroš IV Dušan was crowned Emperor of Serbs and Greeks on 16 April, 1346, a title signifying a successorship to the Eastern Roman Empire...


The cross-in-square church also outlived the political collapse of the Byzantine Empire, continuing to serve as a model for church construction both in Russia and in the Ottoman
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 ("post-Byzantine") Balkans and Asia Minor. In the Balkans the plan remained common until ca. 1700, especially the "Athonite" variation, a sign of the importance of monastic patronage in this period. The maintenance of this architectural tradition, and its resistance to Turkish and Western influences, has been seen as a means of preserving a unique identity for the Orthodox Church. Beginning in the eighteenth century, a greater variety of architectural forms were employed for church-building in the Ottoman Empire, including revivals of early Christian types (such as the basilica). Although the neo-Byzantine architecture
Neo-Byzantine architecture
The Byzantine Revival was an architectural revival movement, most frequently seen in religious, institutional and public buildings. It emerged in 1840s in Western Europe and peaked in the last quarter of 19th century in the Russian Empire; an isolated Neo-Byzantine school was active in Yugoslavia...

of the 19th and 20th centuries tended to draw on an eclectic set of historical references, the cross-in-square plan did play a role in the formation of "national styles" in the new, post-Ottoman, states (for example, in the late 19th-century churches of Serbia).


  • Ch. Bouras, "The Byzantine tradition in the church architecture of the Balkans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries", in J.J. Yiannias, ed., The Byzantine tradition after the fall of Constantinople (Charlottesville, 1991), 107-49. ISBN 0-8139-1329-2
  • S. Ćurčić, "The architecture", in E. Kitzinger, The mosaics of St. Mary’s of the Admiral in Palermo (Washington, 1990). ISBN 0-88402-179-2|doi=10.2307/1291876|publisher=Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University|jstor=1291876}}
  • O. Demus, Byzantine mosaic decoration: aspects of monumental art in Byzantium (London, 1947)}}
  • C.A. Mango, Byzantine architecture (New York, 1976). ISBN 0-8109-1004-7|doi=10.2307/1291746|publisher=Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University|jstor=1291746}}|doi=10.2307/991243|author3=Mathews, Daskalakis|issue=3|publisher=Society of Architectural Historians|postscript=|jstor=991243}}}}|doi=10.2307/767224|issue=1|publisher=International Center of Medieval Art|jstor=767224}}
  • R. Ousterhout, The architecture of the Kariye Camii in Istanbul (Washington, 1987). ISBN 0-88402-165-3
  • R. Ousterhout, A Byzantine settlement in Cappadocia (Washington, 2005). ISBN 0-88402-310-9
  • R. Ousterhout, Master builders of Byzantium (Princeton, 1999). ISBN 0-691-00535-4
  • R. Ousterhout, "Reconstructing ninth-century Constantinople", in L. Brubaker, ed., Byzantium in the ninth century: Dead or Alive? (Hampshire, 1998), 115-30. ISBN 0860786862|doi=10.2307/991214|issue=1|publisher=Society of Architectural Historians|jstor=991214}}|doi=10.2307/1291696|publisher=Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University|jstor=1291696}}
  • T. Pratsch, Theodoros Studites (759-826): zwischen Dogma und Pragma (Frankfurt am Main, 1998). ISBN 3-631-33877-5
  • C. L. Striker, Kalenderhane in Istanbul (Mainz, 1997). ISBN 3-8053-2026-4
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