The Ambo: A Brief Consideration

Today, when one refers to an "ambo" in a church, most would tend to think of a small, podium or lectern like structure, sometimes made of wood, though more frequently made of stone. However, the ambo was at one time a much more grandiose structure:
Originally there was only one ambo in a church, placed in the nave, and provided with two flights of steps; one from the east, the side towards the altar; and the other from the west. From the eastern steps the subdeacon, with his face to the altar, read the Epistles; and from the western steps the deacon, facing the people, read the Gospels. The inconvenience of having one ambo soon became manifest, and in consequence in many churches two ambones were erected.

...they were first introduced into churches during the fourth century, were in universal use by the ninth, reaching their full development and artistic beauty in the twelfth, and then gradually fell out of use, until in the fourteenth century, when they were largely superseded by pulpits. In the Ambrosian Rite (Milan) the Gospel is still read from the ambo. They were usually built of white marble, enriched with carvings, inlays of coloured marbles Cosmati and glass mosaics. (The Catholic Encyclopedia)
St. Germanus of Constantinople had this to say about the structure:
The ambo manifests the shape of the stone at the Holy Sepulchre [on which the angel sat after he rolled it away from the doors of the tomb,] proclaiming the resurrection of the Lord to the myrrhbearing women (cf Mt 28:2-7). This is according to the words of the prophet, [“On a bare hill raise a signal” (Is 13:2)] “Climb, O herald of good tidings, lift up your voice with strength” (Is 40:9). For the ambo is a mountain situated in a flat and level place. (On the Divine Liturgy)
With that background in mind, here are just a few examples of this noble liturgical structure, beginning with one of the most famous, that ambo of the duomo of Ravello.

This ambo not only includes typical medieval Cosmatesque ornament, it also includes mosaic works depicting peacocks as well as Jonah and the whale (a typological reference to Christ's death and Resurrection); one of him being swallowed by the whale and the other of him emerging from the belly of the whale three days later.

This, of course, is very fitting symbolism for the structure from whence the gospel would be proclaimed.

As a second example, here is the ambo of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura in Rome:

Photo credit: Lawrence Lew, O.P.
Here too, seen on the left, is the ambo of the basilica of San Clemente in Rome:

Photo source: Dnalor 01
Finally, here is an example of an ambo in liturgical use; as seen in the Dominican church of Santa Sabina in Rome.

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