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It is certain that the Indo-Germanic peoples originally had no buildings for the worship of their gods, but worshiped the gods upon mountains, as Herodotus expressly says of the Persians, or believed the supernatural beings were present in groves or trees.Consequently among the ancient Germans the conception of a grove was identified with that of a temple.
Nissen started from the assumption that the Greeks and Romans regarded the gods and manifestations of the world-preserving spirit, and as such subordinated them to the original symbol of the world-spirit, the sun.Moreover, the instances in which it has lately been possible to determine the unknown god occupying a temple of known position, so as to test the correctness of this hypothesis, have proven unfavorable to it. At the same time, however, it remains a fact that the orientation of the temple was universally customary, just as it was later in the case of the Christian church.Among the Romans when the building of the temple was completed it was dedicated to the divinity by the public authorities or by a person specially delegated for this office, while the priests only pronounced the formulæ without personally completing the sacred act.Vessels containing water were placed at the entrance; from these, those entering sprinkled themselves to be purified from all guilt, as nothing impure was permitted to enter the precincts. The point towards which a Roman temple faced varied, according to the theory of H.Nissen, who investigated a large number of these temples in respect to this matter.When the augurs had determined the boundaries of a temple-enclosure, the boundaries could not lawfully be interrupted except at one point, which was to serve as an entrance.
To mark these boundaries no walls were needed; a formula spoken by the augur was sufficient, and from this ceremony came the phrase effari locum , literally, "to proclaim a place", hence, to define and dedicate.
The beginnings of stone temples among the Germans probably go back to the first Christian centuries and are attributable to the influence of their neighbors, the Gauls.
When new temples were built precincts already consecrated to the divinity were preferably chosen.
The Latin form, templum , from which the English temple is derived, originally signified an uncovered area marked off by boundaries; especially the place marked off by the augurs to be excepted from all profane uses.
Among the Remans the precincts of a temple were always quadrangular in ground plan; hence the so-called temple of Vesta, one of the most famous sanctuaries in Rome, being circular in plan, was not strictly a temple, but only an oedes sacra , or sacred building.
The pagan Germans were never able to bring themselves to give up their worship of the gods in groves to any such extent as the Greeks and Remans did under the influence of the East.