Cancelli (Greek, kankelloi) are screens used to enclose the presbytery (see below), the part of an early Christian church reserved for the clergy. The area enclosed, also called the bema, hierateion, abaton, adyton, or hapsis (apse, see above), contained the altar; it could be entered by the laity only for the reception of the EUCHARIST. In large cathedrals such as the one at al-Ashmunayn, cancelli were also used to subdivide the presbytery. In the Martyr Church at Abu Mina, the open rooms on both sides of the eastern concha (semicircular room) are screened off from the altar by cancelli.
Cancelli, simple constructions of wood, stone, or metal, consist of a row of posts (stipites) permanently fixed to the floor and joined together by low screen panels (transennae), which may be either plain or pierced. Not uncommonly, such panels are also simply inserted between the columns along the sides of the nave. Doors are located generally in the center of the short side on the west, across the nave, as well as on the long sides, as was required. The middle entrance serves the clergy for its various entrances from the presbytery into the nave and is also used by the laity when receiving the Eucharist at the altar. In large pilgrim churches, where a great onrush of believers was expected, a narrow entryway with similar cancelli on each side was set up in front of the altar. Examples are the Great Basilica at Abu Mina and Basilica B at Thebes.
In the early Christian church, these cancelli were never very high; thus, the proceedings at the altar could easily be observed from the nave. The posts of the cancelli in the basilica in front of the pylon of the Luxor temple, dating as late as 600, are only about 3 feet (1 m) high.
An ornate version of the cancelli called the templon apparently gained popularity from the sixth century onward, above all in Byzantine areas (Soteriou, 1931). Here the posts are made taller by having column shafts joined to, or set on top of, them and are joined together above the capitals by architraves or arches. The apertures that are thus produced above the transennae could be filled in by curtains if need be (first mentioned in the West in the seventh century; Duchesne, 1886, Vol. 1, p. 375). In Egypt, this type of cancelli is rare, though attested several times in the region of Abu Mina.
Instead, one finds a similar arrangement in some edifices, not older than the late seventh century, which already possess a khurus, a room between the presbytery and the nave (see below). In these, the central opening of the khurus is sometimes provided with a row of several columns of medium height, into which are sunk wooden frames reaching up to the capitals, as in the main church of Dayr Apa Jeremiah at Saqqara and the Church of Saint Mercurius at Dayr Abu Sayfayn in Cairo. The function of these frames was perhaps to carry a curtain that closed off the space between the columns. The Byzantine templon developed from the fourteenth century into the iconostasis (see below), a high screen that completely closed off the presbytery. In the Egyptian church, however, the curtain was replaced by the iconostasis some time during the Fatimid period.
- Chatzidakis, M. “Ikonostas.” In Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst, Vol. 3, pp. 326ff. Stuttgart, 1978.
- Delvoye, C. “Cancelli.” In Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst, Vol. 1, pp. 900-931. Stuttgart, 1966.
- Duchesne, L. ed. Le liber pontificalis, 3 vols. Paris, 1886-1957. Klauser, T. “Cancelli.” In Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum Vol. 2 cols. 837-838. Stuttgart, 1954.
- Orlandos, A. K. Basilik», pp. 509-535. Athens, 1952.
- Pauty, E. Bois sculptés d’églises coptes (époque fatimide). Cairo, 1930.
- Schläger, H. “Abu Mena. Zweiter Vorläufiger Bericht.” Mitteilungen des deutschen archäologischen Instituts— Abteilung Kairo 20 (1963):122-125.
HANS GEORG SEVERIN