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Ciborium - Architectural Elements Of Churches - Coptic Wiki


A ciborium is a freestanding, columned structure, surmounted by a cupola or, less commonly, a pyramid, that protects and emphasizes an altar, tomb, or throne. It may be put up in the open or inside a building. The terms “ciborium” and “baldachin” are often used synonymously in English, but a was originally a fabric canopy hung over an altar or door and only later became an architectural term. Similarly tabernacle originally meant a tent covering the Hebrew ark of the covenant but later came to mean a small cubical structure housing the host in Catholic churches.

Since the New Kingdom, the throne of Egyptian rulers stood under a ciborium, as can be seen from many pictorial representations (Erman and Ranke, 1923, 1981, p. 67). Similarly, the imperial throne of Rome was covered by a ciborium. Also many pagan altars had ciboria over them (Klauser, 1957, Vol. 3, pp. 77f.).

In the Christian era the use of ciboria was widespread. They appear over the thrones of Western rulers (Corippus, 1836, pp. 191ff.) and bishops (Klauser, 1953, p. 18), altars, tombs, wells, and baptismal basins. In Egypt, remains of such ciboria in stone and wood have been found in several early such as those in Abu Mina and Makhurah. All the older Cairo churches are furnished with altar ciboria of this kind, which confirms their use down to the present time. In those examples, the cupola is usually of wood, and it has the form of a sail vault (see below), the underside of which is often richly painted.


  • Alfoldi, A. “Insignien und Tracht der römischen Kaiser.” des deutschen archäologischen Instituts— Römische Abteilung 50 (1935):127-32.
  • Butler, A. J. The Ancient of Egypt, Vol. 1, 2nd ed., p. 114; Vol. 2, pp. 28-35. London, 1970.
  • Erman, A., and H. Ranke. Ägypten und ägyptisches Leben im Altertum. Tübingen, 1923; repr. 1981.
  • Klauser, T. Der Ursprung der bischöflichen Insignien und Ehrenrechte, 2nd ed. Akademische Reden 1. Krefeld, 1953.
  •             . “Ciborium.” In Reallexikon fur Antike und Christentum, Vol. 3, cols. 68-86. Stuttgart, 1957.
  • Lantschoot, A. van. “Allocution de Timothée d’Alexandrie.” Le Muséon 47 (1934):13-56.
  • Orlandos, A. K. Basilik». pp. 471-80. Athens, 1952. Caharch 7 (1953):4-8.
  • Wessel, K. “Ciborium.” In Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst, Vol. 1, cols. 1055-65. Stuttgart, 1966.