A pastophorium is a small side room of an ancient temple or Eastern church.
According to W. Otto (1905, Vol. 1, p. 96), the term in Egypt originally referred to the official room for the pastophoroi, bearers of the pastos, the small, cabinetlike chapels in which the Egyptians placed the statues of the gods when they carried them in processions (Hopfner, 1949, cols. 2107ff.). Pastophoria are also mentioned as dwelling places of the priests appointed to the temple. Elsewhere, according to ancient authorities, the term meant a sleeping chamber or even a bridal chamber (Lucian of Samo-sata Dialogi Mortuorum, De Morte Peregrini 23.3; Nonnus of Panopolis Dionysiaca 5.213) or a room in the Temple in Jerusalem (Josephus Bellum Judaicum 4.9.12, and several places in the Septuagint).
In early Christian church architecture, according to the Apostolic Constitutions, composed in fourth-century Syria, the pastophoria are two rooms, one on either side of the apse (2.57.1) and serve, among other purposes, to store the unused portion of the Eucharist (8.13). Such rooms are found in Syrian churches, beginning in the late fourth century. They assumed a distinctive form in the fifth century and became characteristic of Eastern churches. Unfortunately, archaeologists have used the designation “prothesis” for one pastophorium (traditionally on the north side of the sanctuary), which was thought to serve for the preparation of the Eucharist, and “diaconicon” for the other pastophorium (on the south side) or for both rooms.
At that time, however, neither of the two rooms could have served eucharistic purposes because the special rite of preparation, which is also called prothesis, did not exist until the late eleventh century. Before that time, the preparations were made at the entrance of the church or even outside it in a room called the scevophilacion (Descoeudres, 1983, pp. 130-32). The room called the diaconicon was not assigned a function. In Syrian churches it usually has a larger entrance and is often filled with shrines of martyrs, so it may reasonably be called a martyrium.
Rooms corresponding to the pastophoria suitable for the functions mentioned are found in the oldest Egyptian churches, as early as the fourth century, but the designation “pastophoria” is not so far attested. It is therefore advisable to call them apse side rooms. Nevertheless, there is early mention of a diaconicon (Apophthegmata Patrum 178; Gelasius 3), which may refer to one of the apse side rooms. From the context it is clear that this was a separate room accessible from inside the church.
Probably in Egypt also the term “diaconicon” was used for both rooms, disregarding their individual functions. In these early Egyptian examples, there were not just two but a large number of rooms, as in the transept basilica of al-Ashmunayn at Hermopolis Magna and Dayr Anba Shinudah at Suhaj, one of which also served as a baptistery. Therefore, it may probably be concluded that the use of apse side rooms in Egypt was an independent development, not introduced under Syrian influence. They also appeared in Syria in the late fourth century (Schneider, 1949, p. 59).
- Descoeudres, J. Die Pastophorien im syro-byzantinischen Osten. Wiesbaden, 1983.
- Hopfner, T. “Pastophoroi.” In Real-encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, Vol. 18, pt. 3, cols. 2107-2109. Stuttgart, 1949.
- Monneret de Villard, U. “La basilica cristiana in Egitto.” In Atti del IV congresso internationale di archeologia cristiana. Città del Vaticano, 1938, Vol. 1, pp. 308-318. Rome, 1940.
- Otto, W. Priester und Tempel im hellenistischen Ägypten, 2 vols. Rome, 1905-1908.
- Passoni dell’Acqua, A. “Ricerche sulla versione dei LXX e i papiri I Pastophorion.” Aegyptus 61 (1981):171-211.
- Schneider, A. M. “Liturgie und Kirchenbau in Syrien.” Nachrichten der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen (1949):45-68.