The Rite and Feast of the Encaenia in the Eastern Empire of the Fourth and Fifth Centuries

Michael Fraser

Doctoral Dissertation, University of Durham


Constantine's preference for the Christian religion encouraged the interaction of ecclesiastical and secular affairs, one result of which was the imperial patronage of a major church building programme. As the emperor of the Roman world Constantine continued his predecessors' tradition of creating lasting symbols of the empire in the form of public buildings. As the first Christian emperor he turned his attention to the centres of Christianity, one of which was the city of Jerusalem. This thesis, with its focus on the central places of Christ's death and resurrection, attempts to reveal both the similarities and differences between the fourth century emperor's patronage of church buildings, and his predecessors' commissioning of other public edifices.

The Church in the eastern empire kept alive the memory of Constantine's achievements in Jerusalem in the liturgical feast of the Encaenia. The Greek term "egkainia", however, refers not only to a particular feast but also to a rite of inauguration closely associated with the imperial basilicas. Thus, this study falls into two distinct sections of which the first examines the general usage of 'encaenia' and second, the particular Jerusalem feast. Chapter one, discussing the usage of the term in the Septuagint and early Christian literature, establishes "egkainia" as "inauguration by first use" and defines the subtle difference between inauguration and consecration (˘afierwsij). Chapter two outlines the imperial role in the inauguration of public temples and the associated rites before considering the first documented occasion of the rite of encaenia, the inauguration of the basilica of Tyre in 317. Chapter three then moves to consider in some depth Constantine's 'New Jerusalem' and his effect upon the places of Christ's death and resurrection, relating it to the overall importance Constantine granted to the Cross as the symbol of the empire. The inauguration of the Martyrium basilica in 335 receives especial attention in this chapter. The final chapter of this section observes the growth under Constantius of imperial involvement in the inauguration of churches. Here I examine the controversy surrounding Athanasius and the basilica of the Alexandrian Caesareum, the inaugurations of the basilicas at Antioch and Constantinople and the associated ecclesiastical councils. The conclusion to this section presents a picture of a uniform pattern of imperial involvement in the inauguration of the basilica throughout the eastern empire.

In the second part of the thesis I turn to the feast of the Encaenia, the anniversary of the Martyrium inauguration, and as far as is possible, reconstruct the original feast from the historical and liturgical sources. The significance of the feast outside of Jerusalem is also considered. Chapter five begins this process with an analysis of the feast in the Journal of the pilgrim Egeria and the brief account recorded by the church historian Sozomen. Particular attention is drawn to the relationship of this local feast to the universal feasts of Easter and Epiphany together with the eschatological dimension presented by Sozomen. Chapters six and seven examine the liturgical content of the feast reconstructed from the earliest Jerusalem lectionaries and calendar. An attempt is made in both chapters to set the theology of the feast in the context of the events commemorated by the feast and the subsequent history of the holy places of Jerusalem. Chapter eight then views the feast from Jewish and Roman perspectives, drawing parallels with the Jewish feast of Tabernacles, and the Roman celebration of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. In the conclusion to the thesis I present a comparison of the main elements of both the rite and feast of the encaenia together with a brief summary of the reasons for its significance outside Jerusalem. I also outline a number of avenues for research concerning the relationship of the rite of the encaenia to the rites of church dedication and the existance of a comparable rite and feast in the western empire.