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Templon and Iconostasis[edit]

I'm not sure this sentence is correct: "The word iconostasis is also often mistakenly used to refer to the templon in an Orthodox Church. However, in modern American usage it is the templon which is a wall of icons separating the nave from the sanctuary."

Templa have not been built since about the fifteenth century; a templon is carved of marble usually, and has columns and an architrave, a lot like a temple (hence the name). An iconostasis, on the other hand, though it serves a similar purpose to the templon, is quite different in terms of composition -- they're almost exclusively made out of wood, have strict hierarchies of icons (some of them permanent) and almost fully obfuscate the sanctuary. Though iconostasis means "icon stand", it actually IS the chancel barrier in almost all Eastern Orthodox churches since the 15th century. Anyway, I wanted to hear everyone else's ideas on it before I change anything back. Okay, thanks. --The PNM 02:51, 27 Oct 2004 (UTC)

You're right, and that change is inaccurate. "Iconostasis" is used nearly universally to refer to the "chancel barrier" and is not at all an Americanism. At best "templon" and "iconostasis" are sometimes used as synonyms, but the latter is not at all incorrect. See, for example, this glossary on the website of the American Greek Archdiocese's website: I assume the Greeks know how to use their own language. The word does also signify a portable icon stand and this should perhaps be said, but in its current condition the article is not right. Csernica 11:16, 13 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Well, okay, if everyone agrees, we should revert to the original definition, and perhaps mention that the iconostasis developed from the templon (or actually, I believe it said that before). Is that okay? --The PNM 07:13, 16 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Okay, I (finally) fixed the introduction. Is this okay with everyone? Should I make any changes? I personally feel the article could use some more meat to it, especially in the history and the form -- it's pretty vague. But yeah. It's a lot better now I think.

Uh, I don't believe the iconostasis is intended to preserve "ecclesastical secrecy", and I can give at least two counterexamples. In many Orthodox churches, it is not uncommon for laymen and even young boys to serve in the sanctuary, behind the iconstasis. Access is generally restricted to those who need enter the sanctuary, but that extends far beyond the ordained clergy. Second, these days it's not uncommon to find photojournals of special church services, such as ordinations or Liturgies being concelebrated by multiple hierarchs. These photojournals often include photos of different significant parts of the Eucharist that take place behind the iconostasis, thus making it open to the world. Third (I said at least two), in some churches, the iconostasis isn't even a solid wall, but merely some vertical pieces of wood with maybe some cross pieces, enough to hold some icons. In these churches, everyone in the nave has a reasonably clear view of everything that goes on. If they choose to stand near the sanctuary, they can also hear most or all of the priest's prayers. (This is probably more common in smaller churches and missions that may not be ready to afford a "full" iconostasis.) If "secrecy" were important or essential to the Divine Liturgy, no bishop would permit this to happen.

With this in mind, I'm removing the bit about secrecy and the comparison with the use of Latin. Wesley 16:45, 2 Jul 2004 (UTC)

I've made some relatively minor corrections to some of the terminology. The only one that might look a bit odd is the substitution of "east" for "typically just east". It's true that not all churches are correctly oriented, but even where they're not the altar is always considered 'liturgically' east. If one were to follow the rubrics literally in a church that was oriented with the altar to the geographic north, the services would look strange indeed. --Csernica 00:41, 9 Oct 2004 (UTC)

I'll be reverting the most recent change. It's not clearer, contains one made-up word and is less accurate than what was there before. Phiddipus, we might call the Deacon's Doors "Angel Doors" if the Archangels are depicted on them, but despite your no doubt extensive experience this is not universal. ("Mistakingly" is in some dictionaries, but it's inelegant and of very recent coinage, most likely a misspelling due to writing it out by ear. It's also inconsistent with your "mistakenly" earlier in the article, which is better English. I have left the "templon" issue alone since it's still an issue under discussion. Csernica 00:02, 16 Nov 2004 (UTC)

Oriental Orthodoxy[edit]

In Oriental Orthodoxy, or at least in the Ethiopian Othodox Church, the church uses an iconostasis or something based on a similar concept. I don't imagine it's called by the same name, though. I am assuming the structure serves the same purpose as the iconostasis, as it obscures part of the altar (particularly the area where the tabot rests), and the priests conducts portions of the mass from behind this structure. I wonder if the use of the iconostasis goes all the way back before the Chalcedonian schism? Perhaps someone could elaborate. But if it's based on the same tradition then Oriental Orthodoxy's use of the iconostasis should be mentioned in this article. -- Gyrofrog (talk) 23:48, 25 February 2006 (UTC)

FWIW, I am told that the Ethiopians call this a mekdes (which heretofore I thought was only a given name among Ethiopian females), and indeed it does represent a curtain between heaven and earth. -- Gyrofrog (talk) 00:01, 26 February 2006 (UTC)
There was a structure called a templon that was used from pre-Chalcedonian times to demarcate the altar. This was an arcade, a line of columns supporting an architrave, with an gap in the center. Icons were displayed atop it or hung from the columns. The iconostasis developed into its modern form when the opening was shut with doors, and the icons moved to fill in the gaps between the columns. I don't recall when the curtain came into use. Sources vary, some saying it was a late adoption, others saying it was in use from earliest times. Considering the native South Asian use a curtain (but no iconostasis) and had virtually no contact with the Mediterranean we might guess that it was in use from early on. Possibly both are correct in a sense, and it was a later adoption into the Byzantine rite but with a long history elsewhere. In any event, given the shared history of the Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian churches, a parallel in the iconostasis is not surprising. There's a certain amount of cross-fertilization even today. Thus we see, for example, Coptic bishops adopting the Byzantine mitre. TCC (talk) (contribs) 07:25, 26 February 2006 (UTC)
Regarding mekdes: this article seems to indicate that the term medkes refers to the sanctuary, rather than the iconostas--however, secular journalists are notorious for garbling the facts on liturgical practices and terminology. Does anyone have more direct information about the Ethiopian term for the iconostasis? Regarding whether the iconostas predates Chalcedon, the tradition is that the use of a solid iconostasis was instituted by Basil the Great (c. 330—379), and the Council of Chalcedon was 451. Whether or not one accepts St. Basil as the origin of the practice (personally, I know of no reason not to), there id exist prior to Basil a barrier of some type between the sanctuary and the nave. This is found universally in all of the ancient churches of both East and West, and developed differently in different churches. Nestorian Christianity seperated after the Council of Ephesus in 431, and uses a veil but not a solid iconostasis; Coptic Christianity seperated after Chalcedon and uses an iconostasis (Armenian usage is somewhat in-between, as I understand it: not using a solid iconostasis, but the entire sactuary is seperated by a sort of proscenium arch and--during Lent--a veil). The West at one time used a veil, and eventually a Rood screen. Today, in the West, the chancel rail is all that remains (aside from the occasional Rood beam). MishaPan (talk) 23:50, 21 February 2008 (UTC)
We have quite a good article on templon (none by me), which I have now linked to. All the sources I have stress that (very simply) though a barrier of some sort is vey old, the "modern" solid wall of icons appears much later. Can't help on medkes. Johnbod (talk) 00:29, 22 February 2008 (UTC)


The image of the icon display in Winchester doesn't seem to fit the definition of an iconostasis given at the beginning of the article, since it doesn't separate the nave from the sanctuary. Should we simply remove the image? Or tweak the definition? (talk) 19:59, 30 September 2009 (UTC)

It is not an iconostasis, which I have made clearer in the caption. Johnbod (talk) 20:22, 30 September 2009 (UTC)
Great. Thanks! (talk) 19:18, 1 October 2009 (UTC)


The gallery is now too large, especially as the captions give nothing beyond the location. The Commons category is the place for collections of all the images we have. A gallery here should be carefully selected & explained in the captions. Johnbod (talk) 04:22, 23 December 2009 (UTC)

Sanctuary border, is the solea part of the nave or the sanctuary?[edit]

There is inconsistent reference to whether the sanctuary starts at the iconostasis or at the solea. There seem to be no reliable sources referred to in either instance. So which is it? TMLutas (talk)