« Amaziah Ambo Ambrose of Alexandria »


AMBO: A sort of raised platform in early Christian churches, used for a variety of purposes. 150 The name is met with frequently in medieval works, more rarely in the older, which employ a number of synonymous expressions. Cyprian speaks of a pulpitum, by which he evidently means a raised place to which the lectors ascended to read to the people “the precepts and good tidings of the Lord.” Eusebius relates (Hist. eccl., vii. 30) that Bishop Paul of Samosata erected both a “bema” and a lofty throne to speak from; and the context shows that he is not speaking of the semicircular apse, which was sometimes called “bema” also. So, according to Sozomen (Hist. eccl., viii. 5), John Chrysostom preached seated upon the platform (Gk. bēma) of the readers; and the same historian speaks (ix. 2) of a grave placed “beneath the ambo,” adding the definition “platform of the readers.” Other expressions are analogius or analogium, suggestus, solea, pyrgus, and ostensorium. Other historians besides Sozomen mention Chrysostom going up into the “ambo” to preach, so as to be heard better.

With the beginning of the Middle Ages, the mention of the ambo becomes frequent. Among the services of Pope Sixtus III. to the Church, Platina notes that he adorned the ambo or suggestus in the Basilica Liberiana, ubi evangelium et epistola canitur. The so-called liturgy of St. John Chrysostom contemplates the reading of the gospel in that place by the deacon. The use of the ambo for psalm-singing is evidenced, e.g., by the fifteenth canon of the Council of Laodicea (341?) which reads: “Besides the appointed singers, who mount the ambo and sing from the book, others shall not sing in the Church.” While in primitive times the bishop was the only preacher, and taught the people from his throne or from the altar, in the succeeding centuries the cases grow more numerous in which he commits the office to other clergy, who choose the ambo from which to speak. Pastoral letters of the bishops were read from the same place. The ambo of St. Sophia in Constantinople had a special use, serving for imperial coronations. With all the variety of use the Middle Ages did not forget the original purpose of the ambo. Innocent III., commanding that the deacon shall go up into it to read the gospel, draws a parallel between it and the mountain from which the Lord taught the people. He prescribes two entrances; one for the deacon, the other for the subdeacon. It was considered proper that the gospel should be read from a higher step than the epistle, to show, as Hugh of St. Victor says, that the teaching of Christ is far higher than that of his apostles.

The early rule was to have only one ambo in each church, and this continued in the Middle Ages, except in the largest churches. The position of the ambo in the primitive and early medieval churches can not be positively determined; presumably it stood in the nave, in front of the division between nave and choir. Where there were two, they were placed one on each side against the columns dividing nave from aisles. Sometimes, as in St. Clement’s at Rome, the ambo formed an integral part of the screen dividing the clergy from the laity. As to material, the ambo was frequently made of wood. That which Abbot Suger of St. Denis restored about the middle of the twelfth century was decorated with tablets of ivory, and Emperor Henry II. gave one to the cathedral of Aachen which had not only ivory, but precious stones and gilded copper-plates set in the wood. Most of the extant older ambos are of marble, frequently adorned with mosaics or reliefs on the sides toward the congregation. As far as it is possible to form a general conception of their structure, they consisted of a flat base, either square, oblong, hexagonal, or circular, supported by columns or a plinth, sometimes, however, resting on figures of lions or men. Access to the ambo was given by one or two flights of steps, and it was railed around in front and occasionally surmounted by a canopy. Decoration was mainly used on the surface of the front, and was of infinite variety, and frequently of great richness. Especially beautiful are the marble reliefs with Biblical and allegorical scenes made for the churches of northern and central Italy by the artists of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, with Niccolo Pisano at their head. Most of the ambos now extant are in Italy; notable northern examples are that already mentioned at Aachen, one at Halberstadt, and one at Windisch-Matrei. With the development of Gothic architecture the place of the ambo was taken in a general way by the rood-loft above the choirscreen, and the modern lectern and pulpit serve the same purpose. See Pulpit.

(Nikolaus Müller).

Bibliography: R. de Fleury, La Messe: études archéologiques sur ses monuments, iii. 1 sqq., and plans, Paris, 188. Consult the works on Christian archeology and art.

« Amaziah Ambo Ambrose of Alexandria »
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