Ceiling – Architectural Elements Of Churches

Ceiling

A ceiling (Arabic, khasar‘) is the overhead surface of a room. In Egypt, except for vaulted structures, such as the mid-section of the khurus of Dayr Anba Antuniyus, it is almost always flat. A flat ceiling is supported on wooden beams that rest on the walls of the room and, in large rooms, on interior rows of columns. The most commonly used building timber, since early pharaonic times, was cedar from Lebanon. Later, other kinds of wood were used, including less valuable, indigenous palm.

In important buildings, beams were securely positioned in a regular series of recesses built into the structure of load-bearing walls, as in Dayr Anba Shinudah. In less carefully executed buildings, the beams were placed on top of the walls and the space between the beam ends was filled in as the ceiling was further constructed. Sometimes another layer of beams was laid at right angles to the first.

Over the beams was a compact layer of rushes, bundles of straw, or palm leaves. Above that was a thick layer of dry earth or even ashes to smooth the surface. Clay or plaster strips, or occasionally bricks, provided a top finish.

Only when the ceiling was complete was the building of the walls continued. In this building method, contact with the lower walls was often lost. A frequent consequence was that the walls of an upper story appear to have moved in relation to those of a lower story, which tended to weaken the walls.

Ceilings were rarely decorated. However, in rooms with plastered walls, the ceiling was plastered. The supporting framework of beams remained visible under the thin plaster as in the khurus of the old church of Dayr Anba Antuniyus. In some churches, the surfaces of the beams were decorated with floral ornaments occasionally enriched with different kinds of animals. Other churches, beginning in the Ptolemaic period, had ceilings decorated with coffers (see below). A strictly flat ceiling occurred only in buildings, and then it consisted of stone. They were decorated with a starry sky, painted or in light relief, or with geometric and other patterns.

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PETER GROSSMANN