A photo capturing the grandeur of a biblical portico, adorned with intricate columns and arches, serving as a majestic entrance to a sacred temple or significant place of worship.

What Is A Portico In The Bible? A Detailed Look At This Architectural Feature

If you’re looking to understand what a portico is in the context of the Bible, you’ve come to the right place. In short, a portico is a porch or covered walkway supported by columns attached to the entrance of a building.

But there’s much more to uncover about this architectural feature that is mentioned several times throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore everything you need to know about porticoes in the Bible. You’ll learn the definition and origins of porticoes, where they are referenced in Scripture, their significance and symbolism, architectural details, and more.

Defining What is a Portico

Literal Definition

A portico is an architectural feature consisting of a structure that protrudes outwards and is supported by columns, pillars, or enclosed walls. It serves as a porch or covered entrance leading into a building.

Literally, a portico provides a shaded, outdoor area sheltered from the elements by a roof structure. Often porticos have pediments and classical architectural elements like columns or architraves.

Origins and Etymology

The word “portico” comes from the Latin term “porticus”, meaning enclosed space or courtyard. In ancient Roman architecture, a porticus was often a covered walkway or corridor connecting buildings. The Greek equivalent is “stoa”, an ancient architectural design where columns or pillars supported a roof over a porch or walkway.

So the origins of the portico date back thousands of years to Greek and Roman building designs.

Examples from Ancient Architecture

Famous examples of ancient buildings featuring monumental porticos include the Parthenon in Athens, Greece and the Pantheon in Rome. Greek temples often had stately porticos with rows of imposing columns sheltering the entrance and interior sanctuary.

Other structures like public squares, markets, and meeting halls incorporated the useful portico architectural element as well. Later, early Christians adopted the portico design for the covered atriums and narthexes of grand churches and basilicas.

References to Porticoes in the Bible

Portico of Solomon’s Temple

The first Temple built by King Solomon in Jerusalem included a portico on the front facade facing east (1 Kings 6:3). This grand portico, often called Solomon’s Porch, was an architectural feature common to sacred temples in the ancient Near East.

It provided a transitional space between the outside world and the inner sanctum of the Temple.

Portico in Ezekiel’s Vision of the Temple

The prophet Ezekiel received a vision for a future Temple that included porticoes on the north, south, and east sides. These columned porches surrounded the inner and outer courtyards (Ezekiel 40:6-16).

The porticoes provided shelter and shade for priests, Levites, and worshipers within the sacred precincts.

Portico of the Second Temple

When the Second Temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, it too included an eastern portico. Some rabbis taught that this was built on the same foundations as Solomon’s original portico.

This Second Temple portico was a place for Jewish pilgrims to gather when visiting the Temple (John 10:23).

Solomon’s Portico

A colonnaded porch on the eastern side of the Temple enclosure was known as “Solomon’s Portico” in the time of Jesus (John 10:23). Early Christians gathered and taught there after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 3:11, 5:12).

The apostles performed signs and wonders in this public place, attracting crowds of believers in Jerusalem (Acts 5:12).

Porticoes in the New Testament

The New Testament references porticoes in several places beyond the Temple complex in Jerusalem. In John 5:2, Jesus encounters a disabled man by a pool near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem, at a place called Bethzatha in Hebrew, which had five porticoes.

Paul’s missionary travels take him to the port city of Troas, where Christians meet in an upper room of a home located above a portico (Acts 20:8).

The Significance and Symbolism of Porticoes

Grand Entrances

Porticoes have often been used in religious architecture to create a dramatic, awe-inspiring entrance to a holy place (Website URL). The long colonnades leading up to the portico establish a sense of grandeur and importance, giving worshipers a chance to prepare themselves mentally and spiritually before entering the temple.

Famous examples include the Pantheon in Rome, with its towering columns frontal on an open public space, immediately conveying the importance of what lies within.

Shaded Gathering Places

Unlike open courtyards, porticoes provide shade and shelter along an exterior walkway or at an entrance. Throughout history, they have served as areas where people could gather, connect, philosophize and debate.

The covered walkways around the Agora in ancient Athens gave philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates a meeting point to discuss ideas back and forth with their followers.

Liminal Spaces

Architecturally, porticoes occupy a transitional space between the exterior and interior of a building. Standing beneath a portico, one is neither fully outside nor inside. This doorway-like nature infused them with metaphorical and symbolic meaning.

They represent a threshold moment, emphasizing the act of crossing from mundane to sacred, profane to holy, or secular to religious spaces. The passageway can denote spiritual transformation.

Connections Between Heaven and Earth

The vertical lines formed by rows of towering columns visually connect the earthly portico to the heavenly realm above. As such, they are sometimes interpreted as architectural representations of pathways between the divine and mortal worlds.

This symbolism was embraced in traditional church architecture, where porticoes lined with soaring pillars would lift the eyes and minds of worshipers towards God as they passed into the sacred space of the church.

Architectural Details of Biblical Porticoes

Materials and Construction

Porticoes in biblical times were typically constructed from stone, wood, or a combination of both. Popular stones used were limestone, sandstone, and marble due to their strength and availability. Cedar wood was prized for its beauty, strength, and resistance to rot and insects.

The columns supporting the roof were usually made from single pieces of stone or cedar trunks. These could be quite massive – up to 3 feet in diameter and extending 15-20 feet high. The roof itself would be made of large stone slabs or heavy wooden beams spanning the tops of the columns.

Skillful stonemasons and carpenters were employed to cut the materials and assemble the structures. The porticoes were designed to last for generations with proper maintenance.

Design Features

Biblical porticoes often had arched or flat roofs supported by columns. This created a covered space for people to gather. Some designs had simple functional roofs, while wealthier families or public buildings had more decorative porticoes.

They were frequently built as:

  • Attached porches on houses
  • Entryways to temples, palaces, or tombs
  • Extensions of buildings into gardens or courtyards

This versatility made them useful shaded areas for a variety of purposes, including:

• Meetings and teaching • Business and shopping
• Religious rituals • Recreation and relaxation

Decorative Elements

Wealthy families often showed their status through beautifully decorated porticoes. These used expensive materials and intricate designs, including:

  • Ornate columns with carved floral or geometric patterns
  • Statues or reliefs depicting religious scenes
  • Colored tiles or paintings on the walls and ceilings
  • Precious metals and ivory inlays

Kings were well-known to have porticoes featuring valuable metals, rare imported woods, and fine masonry work. Famous sites like Solomon’s Temple and Herod’s Temple featured stunning covered walkways for rituals and processions.

These artistically enriched porticoes demonstrated cultural sophistication and piety. Their beauty continues to inspire architects and designers today.

The Legacy of Porticoes in Religious Architecture

Porticoes in Synagogues and Churches

The portico is an architectural feature that has been widely adopted in religious structures over the centuries. In synagogues and churches, porticoes have served both functional and symbolic purposes. Functionally, they offer a sheltered space for congregants to gather and socialize.

As symbols, they represent welcoming arms that invite people into the house of worship.

Historically, the inclusion of porticoes in synagogues and churches is associated with the Temple of Jerusalem. The Temple was the center of Jewish worship in ancient times and featured massive columned porticoes, influences which impacted generations of later religious architecture.

Notable examples of monumental porticoes in churches include the 260-feet-wide triple portico on the St Paul’s Cathedral in London and the towering gothic east portico of the Amiens Cathedral in France.

Some modern synagogues also incorporate grand entrance porticoes, like the Jewish Community Center Synagogue’s 72-feet wide portico featuring 12 imposing Corinthian columns. Beyond just aesthetics, these giant porticoes symbolize the welcoming inclusive environment offered inside.

Modern Houses of Worship with Porticoes

While early synagogues and churches largely adopted monumental Greco-Roman style porticoes, modern religious architecture reflects more diversity. Contemporary houses of worship integrate porticoes with varied designs, scales, and purposes.

For example, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple uses a low horizontal cantilevered slab as a modern abstract portico. Other avant-garde churches and chapels feature creative portico forms like slanted V-shaped canopies or fractal wood beam patterns.

In addition to aesthetics, modern porticoes incorporate green building elements for sustainability like solar roof panels.

While ancient religious structures used imposing porticoes to inspire awe, modern architecture reflects more diverse cultural identities. Nonetheless, porticoes of all forms continue to represent welcoming transitional spaces leading into spiritual houses of worship.


In summary, porticoes were an important architectural feature in both ancient biblical times and into the modern day. Though serving practical functions like providing shade and shelter, they also held deeper symbolic meaning related to grandeur, gathering, transitions, and the divine.

By looking closely at how porticoes are described in Scripture and what purpose they served, we gain insight into the cultures and worship practices of the Bible.

The next time you come across the word “portico” in your Bible study, you’ll have a much richer understanding of this structural detail that added both physical and spiritual value to so many sacred spaces.

Whether built from stone, wood, or precious metals, porticoes continue to draw people into holy ground.

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