(from στοὰ βασιλική, one of the porches or colonnades facing the Agora at Athens), the name of an ancient secular building, afterward applied to Christian church edifices. On the overthrow of the kings at Athens, their power was divided among several archons. The remains of the old power were, however, too strong to be swept all away, and the charge of the Eleusinian mysteries, of the flower-feasts of Bacchus, of all legal processes concerning matters of religion, and of all capital offenses, was referred to the ἄρχων βασιλεύς (comp. with rex sacrarum in the republic of Rome). This archon held his court in the stoa basilica. Basilicas for similar purposes were built in all the chief cities of Greece and her colonies, and later in Rome and the Roman colonial cities. They were built with as great splendor -and architectural merits as the temples themselves. Those in Italy were devoted to purposes of business (like our modern bourses or exchanges), and to general legal processes. They had a central nave, separated from two side aisles by grand colonnades. This space was devoted to business. Above the side aisles were galleries for spectators and others. At the rear end was a semicircular space, separated from the main part by gratings when court was held. In Rome there were 29 (others say 22) of these basilicas.
When Christianity took possession of the Roman empire, these basilicas were taken as models for church edifices. The pagan temples were built for residences of the deities, not for holding large bodies of people; and also, being given to unholy purposes, could not be used or copied in Christian churches. The basilicas, on the other hand, had been polluted by no heathen rites, and corresponded with the traditional synagogue in much of their interior construction. Some of the basilicas were given to the Church, and devoted to sacred purposes; and the same plan of building was followed in new church edifices. The plan included a broad central nave with a pointed roof (instead of the arched roof of the classic Roman basilica or the open nave of the Grecian), and on each side were one or two side aisles, covered by a single roof. In the semicircular apsis, opposite the entrance, the seats of the judges were appropriated by the bishops. In front of this, and under the round arched tribune, was the high altar over the crypt (q.v.). Beyond this were two pulpits, one on each side of the nave, for reading the Scriptures and preaching. The pillars in the colonnades separating the aisles were joined by round arches instead of beams, as in the Roman basilicas. During the basilican period (A.D. 300 to A.D. 700-800. no towers or spires were built. In Rome the oldest; basilicas are those of St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John Lateran, St. Clement, Sta. Maria in Trastevere, and St. Lawrence. Others, as Sta. Maria Maggiore, Sta. Agnes, Sta. Croce in Jerusalem, were built after the true basilican period, as were also the present edifices of St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. John Lateran. St. Clement, and SS. Nereo and Achilleo, preserve most distinctly the features of the original basilica. Out of Rome, the best preserved ancient basilicas are those of St. Apollinari in Classe (near Ravenna), and of St. Apollinari in Ravenna. Basilican churches were built extensively in Asia Minor, other parts of Italy, and South France, and in these last two this style has ever exercised almost a controlling influence on ecclesiastical architecture. It gave also the general ground plan and many other elements to the succeeding Romanesque, and even to the contemporary Byzantine styles. In the same general style are the churches of St. Boniface (Roman: Catholic) in Munich, and of St. Jacob (Protestant) in Berlin, both built within the last twenty years. There is no prospect, however, that the style will ever be generally adopted in the erection of modern churches. See Zestermann, De Antic. et Christ. Basilicis (Brussels, 1847); Bunsen, Die Christlichen Basiliken Roms (Munich, 1843); Kugler, Geschichte der Baukunst (Stuttgart, 1859); Fergusson, History of Architecture; Bingham, Orig. Eccles.bk. 8, ch. 1, § 5. SEE ARCHITECTURE; SEE CHURCH EDIFICES.