The raised platform for reading and preaching, also referred to as a pulpit. The term ambo (ᾄμβων) is derived probably from ᾀναβαἵνειν (to mount). The elevated reading platform was designated by other terms as well: β[symbol omitted]μα, πύργος, pulpitum, suggestus, auditorium, tribunal, exedra, dicterium and in late Latin usage, lectricium,
legitorium, analogium. Since the scriptural service had its origin in the synagogue the ambo had possible precedent in synagogue service where a platform was sometimes provided for the reading of Sacred Scriptures. Its early use in the Christian Church in Africa is attested by both Augustine and Cyprian.
Positions and Development. In the Syrian Church the ambo was usually combined with the clergy's bench in the nave of the church. In the Greek Church it often assumed a prominent position in the nave, outside the sanctuary, and had stairways for ascent and descent. In Rome, the ambo appeared rather late. None of the Fathers make reference to ambo at Rome prior to the 7th century. At this time numerous Byzantine foundations in Rome may have brought the ambo into use. Even then there was as a rule but a single ambo, which served for all lessons. It was used for reading, chanting the intervening Psalms, and preaching. The Service of the Word took place at the same ambo. An example of such an ambo (6th century) is the carved marble one at Castel Sant'Elia, near Nepi. There are eight steps for ascent to the upper tier of a two-tiered balustrade. The use of separate ambos for Epistle and Gospel is medieval in origin and based on an allegorical interpretation introduced by Amalarius of Metz (d. c. 850). During the time when the division of the readings were rendered on the right and on the left, and two ambos were constructed, an ornamental one on the Gospel side, a more modest structure on the Epistle side.
The separation of places for proclaiming the readings from the places for preaching was a consequence of the medieval introduction of chancel screens and the relegation of the liturgical celebration to the clergy alone. When only priests do the reading the place for reading Scripture is reduced to a simple lectern or, in private Masses, to a mere bookstand on the altar, while the place for the preaching becomes more ornate. In the 11th century the ambo was made a part of the rood screen separating the choir from the nave. Figures of the Savior and His Apostles, representing the Last Judgment and the Passion, frequently ornamented the screen on the side toward the nave. Such ambos were built in Italy as early as the 13th century. The ambo at Pisa, completed by Nicola Pisano in 1260 is an unattached structure resting on seven columns. It opened the way to a new development in Italian sculpture. The first examples of Renaissance ambos are those of Donatello in the 15th century. For funeral orations in the churchyard, for preaching to pilgrimage groups, or for the exhibition of relics, ambos were often built outside of the churches, as at the cathedral of Prato. Ambos of the baroque period were well toward the center of the nave; the base, stairway, and sounding board were covered with luxurious and ornate carving.
The Ambo Today. The renewed liturgy welcomes the reunion of the place of preaching and the place of reading since these elements clearly constitute the Service of the Word. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican Council II instructs: "It is fitting that there be an ambo for the proclamation of the sacred readings, so arranged that the ministers can be easily seen and heard by the faithful." The General Instruction to the Roman Missal has directed that the Liturgy of the Word is normally proclaimed from the ambo, while at the same time preserving the ancient practice of proclaming the Gospel and homily from the presider's chair. The ambo must be dignified, functional, and properly related to altar, chair, and assembly.
Bibliography: a. damblon, Zwischen Kathedra und Ambo: Zum Predigtverständnis des II Vatikanums—aufgezeigt an den liturgischen Predigtorten (Dusseldorf 1988). t. mannooramparampil, "Bema in the East Syrian Church," Christian Orient 19 (1998) 84–99. e. renhart, Das syrische Bema: Liturgischarchäologische Untersuchungen (Graz, 1995). r. taft, "On the Use of the bema in the East—Syrian Liturgy," Eastern Churches Review 3 (Spring 1970) 30–39. t. mathews, "Early Christian Chancel Arrangement in Rome," Revista de archeologia cristiana 38 (1962) 73–95. Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, and Instruction of Oct. 16, 1964. j. a. jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, tr. f. a. brunner, 2 v. (New York 1951–55) 1:391–461.
[w. m. marshall/eds.]