A presbytery (, presbyterion, from presbyteros, meaning “elder”) is the area of the church reserved for the to carry out their functions. It is identical to the sanctuary. In early basilicas, the presbytery was usually a area at the east end of the nave in front of the apse. It was raised above the floor by several steps—it is sometimes called a bema (the Greek word for “raised platform”)—and was shut off by from the area of the church for on the west and frequently also from the apse on the east. The stood at the western end facing the area for the laity.

The reading of scripture also took place at that end. The presbytery could be entered from both sides and from the western end. In special situations a prostasis (an area of varying length closed at the sides by cancelli) was placed in front of it, as in several churches in . In several large Egyptian churches, the presbytery was itself subdivided by inner screens into two sections. In early monastic churches at Kellia the presbytery was simpler—a rectangular altar chamber closed off from the laity by a screen between the jambs of the arch that formed its front .

The presbytery continued in use in medieval English cathedrals, where it often occupied the space between the and the high altar. In , however, it lost its significance, as the (see above) developed in the late seventh and eighth century as a room for the clergy out of the .


  • Delvoye, C. “Bema.” In Reallexikon für und , Vol. 1, pp. 583-99. , 1966.
  • Nussbaum, O. Der Standort des Liturgen am christlichen Altar vor dem Jahre 1000, Vols. 1-2. , 1965.
  • , A. K. Basilik», pp. 509-535. , 1952.

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