Influence of Theology on Architecture: the Relationship between Religion and Design

Religion and theology have shaped the history of architecture, and church architecture in particular, in various ways. It inspired the design, symbolism, function, and ornamentation of religious buildings across different cultures and periods.

Theologians’ interpretations of sacred texts and theological principles have been translated into tangible architectural elements that we still see today. It helped with creating spaces that not only brough people to worship but also embody the beliefs and values of the faith through sacred architecture.

This influence is particularly evident in the evolution of architectural styles such as Gothic, where theological concepts influenced  the design and implementation. 

Alonga Travel the author enjoying an urban walk in Europe, smiling & wearing sunglasses
Alonga Travel the author enjoying an urban walk in Europe, smiling & wearing sunglasses

Hello, I am Tatiana—an architecture addict fascinated with beautiful old buildings and discovering the gems of Europe. Check out my in-depth travel tips and reviews of the best European destinations and city breaks. Let's connect on social media!

A Roman church & the Bible & a custom sign: 'Influence of theology on architecture'
A Roman church & the Bible & a custom sign: 'Influence of theology on architecture'

Who are the theologians

Theologians are scholars who specialize in the systematic and rational study of concepts of God and the influences they have, as well as the nature of religious truths. Through various methodologies, theologians analyze and interpret religious experiences, texts, and practices. Theologians come from various religious backgrounds and they explore a wide range of subjects in their studies.

For example, they study sacred texts to gain a deeper understanding for such profound questions as the existence and qualities of God. They also ponder ethical matters, and examine the relationship between religion and science.

Most famous theologians

Some notable theologians include:

  • Apostle Paul of Tarsus (died c. 60–65)

  • Papias of Hierapolis (c. 60 – c. 130)

  • Apostle James, Son of Zebedee

  • Apostle Simon Peter

  • Apostle John, Son of Zebedee

  • Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35 or 50 – between 98 and 117)

  • Polycarp (c. 69 – c. 155)

  • Clement of Rome (fl. c. 96)

  • Justin Martyr (c. 110 – c. 165)

  • Irenaeus of Lyons (died c. 202)

  • Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220)

  • Origen (c. 184 – c. 253)

  • Augustine (354–430)

  • Thomas Aquinas (1224 to 1274)

These people have made important contributions to different doctrines and the way we understand religion.

A man holding a magnifying glass over a religious scripture & a custom sign: 'Who are theologians?'
A man holding a magnifying glass over a religious scripture & a custom sign: 'Who are theologians?'

Architecture and Theology: the tangible changes to buildings

Religion and theology have played a big role in shaping architect history. This influence can be seen in different ways, like how religious buildings are designed, the symbols they use, what they are used for, and how they are decorated.

Take the story of the Sacred City as an example.

The Bible story of a Sacred City

The heavenly city symbolizes the ultimate destination for people of faith and is described as a perfect and peaceful place where God is present.

The Bible contains passages that demonstrate God's interest in and involvement with human construction, including the detailed instructions for building the tabernacle and the temple.

In the Book of Revelation, Saint John is taken on a tour of the heavenly city by an angel who provides specific details about its size, gates, and materials.

Even though the heavenly city is not a physical location, its description has influenced the design and symbolism of religious buildings. The relationship between the heavenly city, theology, and architecture is deeply rooted in religious symbolism and beliefs.

Architects and theologians have used these descriptions to create spaces that reflect the divine and offer a glimpse of what the heavenly city might be like.

This can be observed in the design of churches and cathedrals, where elements such as height, light, and the arrangement of space are utilized to symbolize the transcendence of God and the heavenly realm.

The concept of the heavenly city has had a significant impact on the design and symbolism of religious architecture. It provides a theological basis for the creation of spaces that connect with the divine.

So, basically, the real tangible architecture was created as a result of interpretation of sacred texts.

Buildings Design and Religious architecture

Religious buildings are often designed to represent important symbols in a religion. For example, Christian churches might be laid out in the shape of a cross, which is a big symbol in Christianity and Christian community.

Islamic mosques often have a special niche in the wall called a mihrab that shows the direction of Mecca.

Stonehenge vs modern church & a sign: 'Architecture and Theology the tangible changes to buildings'
Stonehenge vs modern church & a sign: 'Architecture and Theology the tangible changes to buildings'