Literally and originally a royal palace. A Roman pagan basilica was a rectangular hall whose length was two or three times its breadth, divided by two or more lines of columns, bearing entablatures, into a broad central nave and side aisles.
It was generally roofed with wood, sometimes vaulted. At one end was the entrance. From the center of the opposite end opened a semicircular recess as broad as the nave, called in Latin the Tribuna and in Greek the Apsis. The uses of the basilica were variotts and of a public character, courts of justice being held in them. Only a few ruins remain.
The significance of the basilica to Freemasons is that it was the form adopted for early Christian churches, and for its influence on the building gilds.
For the beginning of Christian architecture, which is practically the beginning of Operative Freemasonry, we must seek very near the beginning of the Christian religion. For three centuries the only places in pagan Rome where Christians could meet with safety were in the catacombs, long underground galleries. When Constantine adopted Christianity in 324, the Christians were no longer forced to worship in the catacombs. They were permitted to worship in the basilica and chose days for special worship of the Saints on or near days of pagan celebrations or feast days, so as not to attract the attention or draw the contempt of the Romans not Christians.
Examples of this have come down to us, as, Christmas, St. John the Baptist's Day, St. John the Evangelist's Day, etc.
The Christian basilicas spread over the Roman Empire, but in Rome applied specially to the seven principal churches founded' by Constantine, and it was their plan that gave Christian churches this name. The first builders were the Roman Artificers, and after the fall of the Western Empire, we find a decadent branch at Como that developed into the Comacine Masters, who evolved, aided by Byzantine workmen and influence Lombardian architecture (see Como).
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