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Early Christians groups first met in private homes. In Corinth, a Roman colony, the homes would have been constructed in the Roman style (domus).
This reconstructed model of the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii, Italy (right) is an example of a large Roman home. It shows the exterior of the house from the front, the back and one side. This particular building would have been owned by someone in the Roman upper class.
Pompeii was prosperous port and resort with many famous villas, temples, theaters, and baths. Because Pompeii was destroyed Mount Vesuvius' eruption in A.D. 79, the basic plan of homes in this city are contemporary with those used by the Pauline house churches in the Roman colony of Corinth (A.D. 50-60). Below is a plan for the House of the Tragic Poet which gives descriptions of different parts of the domus.
|A||atrium||formal entrance hall [learn more]|
|Al||ala||"wings" opening from atrium|
|C||cubiculum||small room; bedroom [learn more]|
|Cu||culina||kitchen [learn more]|
|E||exedra||garden room [learn more]|
|P||peristylium||colonnaded garden [learn more]|
|T||taberna||shop [learn more]|
|Ta||tablinum||office; study [learn more]|
|Tri||triclinium||dining room [learn more]|
|V||vestibulum||entrance hall [learn more]|
Corinthian Christians would have met in the homes of more affluent members, although their homes were probably not as large as that of House of the Poet. These same persons most likely would have had larger households, sometimes including slaves. "The floor plans of some of the houses that have been excavated in Pompeii ... can be read as a kind of physical diagram of [societal and household] relationships: private rooms and offices for the head of the house; a section of the house probably for the women and children; apartments for slaves; rented rooms; on the street side a shop or two, perhaps a tavern or even a hotel, sometimes connecting with the atrium; and centrally located, a dining room in which the paterfamilias (patriarch of the family) might enjoy the company of his equals." ...1
Congregants entered the house through the door leading to the atrium (entrance hall). The atrium had a large opening in the roof (compluvium) that let in light and allowed rain to fall into a pool below. The impluvium (pool) could have been used for washing hands before dinner and also for baptisms.
The church community gathered in the triclinium ("three reclining places room" at left) for a meal before worship. The dining room of a Roman house, which would have been furnished with couches (lecti).
After dinner, services were held in the tablinum, the office or study. If the group was large, people stood in the atrium or peristylium.
The lectus, or couch, was an all-purpose piece of furniture. Usually made of wood with bronze adornments, the open bottom was crisscrossed with leather straps, which supported stuffed cushions. Different sizes and shapes of lecti were used for sleeping, conversing, and dining.
Usually the tablinum was the office of the male head of the household. In Roman society and the Corinthian church, who headed households also, meaning that some Christian group's met in a woman's office. Women in early Christianity took on some of the same leadership roles as men within the congregation. One such woman was Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11). "Chloe's people" were slaves, freed persons, or both.2
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Notes and Credits
1 Wayne A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1983), pp. 30-31.
2 Meeks, p. 59.
The information (June, 1999) about House of the Tragic Poet is quoted or adapted from material by Barbara F. McManus, The College of New Rochelle, email@example.com. The materials, including the graphics, about the Roman House have been adapted from resources of the VRoma Project. See also: Sources for the Roman House
All biblical quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission.
Disclaimer: Some links jump to outside sites for further information on Corinthians, the Bible, Paul, and other resources. Links do not constitute an endorsement by the Women's Division of the information on other web sites. External web sites offer us diverse perspectives; afford us an opportunity to compare them to United Methodist positions; and, encourage us to critically analyze the issues raised by the Corinthians web pages.