ElAnt v1n1 - WORK-IN-PROGRESS - Constantine, The New Jerusalem, and the Feast of the Encaenia

Volume 1, Number 1
June 1993


Michael Fraser,
Doctoral Research Student,
Department of Theology,
University of Durham,
e-mail: m.a.fraser@durham.ac.uk

The egkainia (Latin: encaenia) was the name given to the anniversary of the dedication of the Holy Sepulchre or Martyrium basilica in Jerusalem. The feast celebrated not only the dedication of the basilica, but also the finding of the holy cross. The pilgrim Egeria notes in her diary that the day, in addition to these two feasts, marked the anniversary of Solomon's dedication of the first Jerusalem temple. What, though, is the Christian origin of the word 'egkainia' which more often than not had previously referred to the Jewish feast of Hanukkah? The word itself is rare in Greek classical and early Christian literature. Prior to the age of Constantine there are no references to 'egkainia' as a term for the dedication of buildings. Certainly in Christian literature It appears only in texts which comment on the appearance of the word in the Septuagint, and in these cases the interpretation is generally a spitualisation of the Septuagint text.

The first occurrence of the word within the context of church dedication is in book ten of Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History. He describes the effects of Licinius' and Constantine's edict of toleration, one of which was 'the consecration (afierosis) and dedication (egkainia) of churches'. Commentaries on this passage have tended to suggest that Eusebius is talking of the consecration of new churches (afierosis) and the rededication of churches that were previously confiscated by the state (egkainia). The explanation of these two terms for the dedication of churches is not as simple. An examination of the use of 'egkainia' in the contemporary literature, as well as the its use in the Septuagint, suggests that 'egkainia' does not simply mean 'rededication' but rather 'inauguration' (and this applies also to the feast of Hanukkah, the so-called rededication of the temple). Both terms could thus be applicable to new churches.

The purpose of the research being undertaken is to examine the concept of 'egkainia' as not only a feast (the anniversary of the Jerusalem Sepulchre basilica) but also 'egkainia' as a rite. Although Eusebius does not refer to the actual consecration of the Holy Sepulchre basilica as an 'egkainia' in the text of the Vita Constantini, the heading to the chapter does. Most scholars are agreed that the chapter headings in the Vita were added soon after Eusebius' death in 338. By the fifth century the term is well established as both a description of the rite of dedication, and also the anniversary feast. What, if any, is its relationship to the feast of Hanukkah? The feast of the 'egkainia' was an eight day feast beginning on 13th September each year (the basilica was dedicated on 13th September 335) whereas the feast of Hanukkah was an eight day feast celebrated in the middle of December. There is evidence that the Christian feast of the 'egkainia' has less to do with the Jewish feast of Hanukkah than it might with the Jewish autumnal feast of Tabernacles (for which there is no obvious Christian equivalent).

In support of the hypothesis that the feast of the 'egkainia' presupposed an underlying rite, we have the evidence of Athanasius of Alexandria in his Apologia ad Constantium where he refutes accusations that he has held a rite of 'egkainia' without the presence of the emperor Constantius. The building in question was the Caesareum in Alexandria which was being converted to a basilica on the orders of Constantius. Thus the emperor was the patron of this church just as Constantine was the founder of the basilicas in Jerusalem. It is hoped that the final thesis will comment upon the subject of imperial involvement in church dedication ceremonies in some detail. In addition to Athanasius' Apologia, we do of course, have detailed descriptions of Constantine's building program, particularly in Palestine. How did Constantine himself perceive the city of Jerusalem? This is a question which first has to resolve or at least note the differences in Eusebius' presentation of the Holy Sepulchre basilica, and Constantine's own intentions. The state of the question still revolves partly around the omission in Eusebius of the finding of the cross (of which the subsequent feast of the 'egkainia' celebrated) and his preoccupation with the Holy Sepulchre itself as the 'chief part of the whole'.

In addition it is hoped to expand upon the significance of the dedication of the Holy Sepulchre basilica on the 13th September, held within the week of the Ludi Romani games in honour of Jupiter. If Constantine displaced the administrative centre of the empire to Constantinople, the 'New Rome', how fair is it to suggest that Constantine intended the spiritual centre of the empire to be in the 'New Jerusalem' (a term that Eusebius employs for the whole Sepulchre-Golgotha complex)? It is perhaps this latter aspect that will be of greater interest to historians of later antiquity. The debate concerning Constantine's attitude to the established Roman religion has tended to centre around the prohibition of sacrifice and the raiding of temples. This research hopes to make a small contribution in this area in looking at Constantine's merging of his self-perceived 'episcopal' authority with role of Pontifex Maximus which he never relinquished. Focussing on the basilica erected near places of the death and resurrection of Christ, this section of the thesis will seek to demonstrate that the basilica was built primarily to honour the Cross of Christ, the 'saving trophy' of the empire, the sign which Constantine believed would preserve the reign of his dynasty. The research draws not only on textual evidence but also on the wealth of archaeological excavations at the site of Constantine's basilica.

Other sections will discuss the extant Jerusalem sources for the liturgical feast of the 'egkainia' (primarily the Armenian and Georgian lectionaries). The concluding section will examine the theological tensions apparent in the liturgy for this feast between perceiving Jerusalem as a holy city in the present, and the traditional Christian assertion that the holy city of Jerusalem is the heavenly Jerusalem yet to be made manifest. Constantine's intention to build 'a house of prayer' on the site of Golgotha, the discovery of the Cross and the tomb, and the adventus of Helena Augusta to Palestine, all succeeded in publicising Jerusalem as the 'most marvellous place in the world' and initiated the later Christian belief in Jerusalem as the centre of the world.

Michael Fraser
e-mail: m.a.fraser@durham.ac.uk

Electronic Antiquity Vol. 1 Issue 1 - June 1993
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
ISSN 1320-3606
by Kaavya Giridhar