The Pagan Eucharist

Whatever the shape or type of lararium, portable shrine or altar table, the material and literary evidence suggests that they were used as focal points for the Eucharist (fig.1-3). Long before Christians adopted it as a fundamental act of worship, pagan households performed the Eucharist as a daily ritual in honour of their gods and ancestors. And, since it took place within the house, this undoubtedly contributed to it being not just a secular environment. (On the similarity between early pagan rituals and latter Christian ones, and the subsequent denial and ridicule of pagan worship by the Church fathers, see Frazer, J. G., The Golden Bough. 1971: 471) The Church saw such similarities as diabolical imitations. Frazer, on the other hand, argued that the similarities were due to the transcendental nature of human desire. [For more on lararia and their locations see R.A. Tybout, “Domestic shrines and ‘popular painting’: style and social context”, JRA 9, 1996:358]


The lararium acted as the main focal point for the Lares who were thought to emanate from numina associated with the land ( Lares Rurales ). Worshipping them was thought to ensure prosperity and therefore they were a powerful force amongst farming communities. Their worship continued with the growth of urban settlements. The Lares were also connected with the benevolent spirits of dead ancestors, particularly male progenitors ( Lares Familiares ) (fig.4).

Honouring and worshiping the Lares in domestic shrines ( Lararia ) not only ensured the continuing prosperity the household, but also its protection from evil and misfortune. Hence their presence along with other household deities was a major contributor to the concept of the House as Sanctuary. (Theories concerning the possible origins of the Lares are discussed in depth in Orr, D.G., "Roman Domestic Religion: The Evidence of Household Shrines." ANRW II.16.1, Walter de Gruyter, 1978, pp. 1557-1591). The Lares compitales and Lares praestites performed a similar role in respect of the city and its thoroughfares. In Rome they were worshiped in temples and wayside shrines throughout the city. In 7 BC Augustus considered the Lares compitales sufficiently important to revitalise the Compitalia, the festivals that honoured them throughout the year. He also associated himself with their power and protection by creating the Lares Augustali, thus connecting them with his own religious and political status.


Worshiping the House
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