History of Art and Architecture

Franklin Toker Colloquium


Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

“Archaeological Evidence for the Origins of Christianity in Florence"

Franklin Toker, Professor, History of Art and Architecture


Left: The Baptistery of Florence today        

Right: The re-examined pool under the Baptistery, as excavated in 1912 

Frank Toker writes: Having published numerous archaeological and archival discoveries in the first two (of an eventual four) volumes in The Florence Duomo Project that Brepols Publishing in Belgium brought out in 2009 and 2013 on the excavations that I directed under and around Florence Cathedral, I anticipated few new major findings in the third volume. But now I have revisited a small pool that I first glimpsed under the Baptistery of S. Giovanni in Florence forty-four years ago. I saw then how important the pool might be were it a baptismal pool, but the problem was that the pool could not accommodate any of the three baptismal rites of aspersion, immersion, and submersion. But I now see that it did work perfectly for baptism by affusion, which was the most common rite of Early Christian times (we know that St Ambrose, for example, baptized St Augustine by affusion in Milan in 387).

The re-interpretation of the pool found in excavations under the Baptistery of Florence in 1912 as a baptismal  pool suggests that the Roman house of which the pool was a part had most likely become a domus ecclesia, or house-church. The house dates from the first century CE. Its take-over for Christian worship probably fell in the years between 250 and 313, after which Christians were allowed to build new churches and stopped converting houses into worship sites. If this house documents the beginnings of Christianity in Florence, the new interpretation has ramifications for many disciplines.