What is an Ancient Egyptian Temple?What is Ancient Egypt?
The Mansion Home of the Gods and Goddess
On average a stone, purpose-built building; erected and maintained with an enormous budget on the instructions of the Pharaoh who remained the link between the Pharaoh and the Deity. To be used for the official worship of the Egyptian Deities, also, at times, in remembrance of the Pharaoh where offerings were made to sustain their spirits in the afterlife, often linked with or located near their tombs.
The larger Temples would own land which often was gifted to them by benefactors and would employ 1,000s for its daily needs. Temples quickly became key economic centres and the Priests held unlimited influence with the Pharaoh and the populace.
Pharaoh had the jurisdiction to perform all necessary religious rituals on behalf of Egypt as a whole which was ennobled on Pharaoh at the Coronation. The Coronation Rituals literally re-enacted God Horus’ accession to the Throne of Egypt in place of his father Osiris.
After Coronation, Pharaoh was the Deities living representative within the Land; and would become a Deity on death. He presided over the Temples, their Priests and Priestesses and ruled to ensure that the concept of Ma’at was maintained throughout and for the avoidance of Chaos.
What is Ma’at?
The worldly and afterlife core that was the central guide of Egyptian life and religion
Ma’at was so important that the concept was brought to life as a Goddess
Pharaoh had the jurisdiction to perform all necessary religious rituals on behalf of Egypt as a whole which was ennobled on Pharaoh at the Coronation
The Coronation Rituals literally re-enacted God Horus’ accession to the Throne of Egypt in place of his father Osiris
Built on the foundations of stone slabs set into sand-filled trenches. Walls were built with large blocks of varying shape which were laid in courses. The stones were decorated along with their neighbours; first with reliefs carved directly into the stone and then brightly painted and sometimes gilded.
Temples were never “finished” and subsequent Pharaohs often rebuilt or replaced Temple structures or made their own additions; frequently dismantling “older” buildings to use as infill for the interiors of the new.
Early Development of Temples
The Early Dynastic Period: The first pharaohs build their funerary complexes in the religious centre at Abydos.
The Old Kingdom Period: Royal funerary monuments were hugely enlarged in the reign of Djoser who was the first to build entirely in stone. To supply the complex, the Pharaoh would find new towns and agricultural estates on undeveloped lands to ensure the uninterrupted movement of goods Ra, as one of the lead deities received more gifts than most and Ra’s Temple at Heliopolis was one of the greatest religious centres.
The Middle Kingdom Period: Temples became more symmetrical in their layout.
New Kingdom Period: Egypt devoted huge resources to its Temples, and they began to control a large portion of wealth. Now the God Amun was the most important and his cult centre at Karnak, Thebes would become the largest of all Temples.
Later Development of Temples
The 3rd Intermediate Period and the Late Period: Egypt fell to alien rulers and many of these funded and expanded the Temples to strengthen their own regal claims.
By the 3rd Century, the building of Temples continued but donations all but dried up.
The Temple Complex
The Enclosure Wall
The whole Temple Complex was surrounded by a brick wall that protected the sacred Ma’at space from outside Chaos.
The Enclosure Buildings
Buildings relating to the administrative functions; including kitchens and grain stores were within the Complex as well as the “house of life” was where the religious texts were edited, copied and stored; but it also served as a school for religion, history, geography, astronomy and medicine.
Some complexes have smaller Chapels dedicated to those Deities who are linked together with the Temple’s own Deity; for example, the Deities child who would have their birth celebrated in a Mammisis.
The Processional Path
Runs directly through the whole Complex and leads from the entrance. The Path often had Sphinx statues lining it and led to a quayside by the Nile. These were interrupted by Barque Stations for use on Festival Days when the Priests could set down the Deity to rest.
The Sacred Lake
A lake which adjoins the Temple and would have been used by Priests and Priestesses for sacred Rituals within the Temple as the Water represented the World before time started.
The gateway at the beginning of the Temple, decorated with reliefs carved into the rock face and then painted. Usually the Pharaohs erected Obelisks and Statues of themselves to highlight their connection and good works with the Temple.
Large open space usually in the shape of a square. The Outer Walls usually were used for the Pharaoh’s propaganda and would depict the defeat of the enemies of Egypt at Pharaoh’s own hands.
The Interior Walls would be reserved for offerings made to the Deities by Pharaoh, the Royal Family and the Priests and Priestesses.
The Populace would enter this part of the Temple Courtyard on Festival Days.
The Hypostyle Hall
Was a dark space, especially after entering from the bright sunlight of the Courtyard, as it was covered with a brightly painted ceiling.
Details of the Hypostyle Hall
The Centre Aisle was lit by slit windows which were cut into the roof and the very tops of the side walls: see blue circle on photo. It represents the primordial Marsh from the beginning of time and was filled with ornately decorated Columns which resembled closed Papyrus Plants: see red circle on photo.
Apart from the centre aisle where the Column tops bloomed in the light: see green circle on photo. Reserved for Rituals and only Pharaoh, high Royal Family and the higher Priests and Priestesses would have entered
The Secondary Hall
Again, this was a dark space filled with Columns, decorated with scenes of Pharaoh making offerings to the Deities by Pharaoh. The space was reserved for the High Priests or High Priestesses and the Pharaoh.
The Inner Sanctum or Sanctuary
The most mysterious, religious and secluded part of the Temple.
The actual Home of the Deity.
Where the Deity lived during the Day in its Statue Form inside its Shrine.
Again, this area was reserved on for the Pharaoh and High Priest or High Priestess.
Each Deity, every day made their Journey from their Sky location to their earthly Temples within their Statue inside the Temple. The Deity within the Temple would become the “patron deity” for that area or City and often the surrounding lands. This allowed the Egyptians to physically interact with the Deities in daily and Festival Temple Rituals.
The Deity’s sacred force was shielded in the Temple Sanctuary from the outside with limited access to humans usually only being the Pharaoh and High Priest or High Priestess.
If the Deity transformed into an animalistic form, then their Cult Temple could have kept sacred animals. Each animal was kept within the Temple confines usually for a set time span, after which a replacement would be found.
Every Egyptian could interact with Deities at Temples for individual and family reasons but also for the larger objectives of Egypt as a whole. They would pray, give offerings and seek the guidance of the Oracles who were paid by the Temples for this purpose.
Daily rituals were performed to give offerings to the Temple’s dedicated God/s or Goddess/es
– at sunrise the Deity was woken with light; cleaned, anointed with oil and then dressed within the Inner Sanctum
– given their daily food and drink and then presented with a Statue of Ma’at to remind them of their role in keeping Chaos at bay
– throughout the day specific Hymns and Music was played for the Deities enjoyment and specific poems and prayers would have been recited
Festivals allowed the enactment of one of the Egyptian Legends events or for the regeneration of the Deity and these nearly always allowed a closer worship for the Egyptian people. They were mostly performed on an annual basis, according to seasonal origin. Some being celebrated locally; with 2 or 3 close Temples; or nationally. Any Deities that celebrated a Festival would receive huge number of offerings.