A generally accepted fact of history is that a culture’s art and architecture are highly representative of the culture itself. This is often because these areas are where people put their money, if they have any.
In ancient times (think ancient Greece), it was considered a symbol of shame and subordination to be built into a column. Frequently, men and women acting as supports for a structure are seen in the ruins of the ancient world. Columns of men are called any of the following: atlases, atlantes, atlantids, telamons, or Persians; women are simply caryatids. The last title for the male columns–Persians–should be a direct tipoff, if any of you readers know Greek history . To be forced to hold up a column was humiliating (Atlas was being punished by being forced to hold up the world). It was a form of enslavement, of humiliation, and of subjugation.
However, this entire mindset was wholly subverted with the teachings of Christ. Jesus, who himself lived to serve, encouraged his followers to be servants as well. As such, the piteously humiliating role of the servant/slave was subverted into a beautifully humbling role. Instead of slaves being built into the columns of buildings, saints were. Instead of being subjugated and diminished, the people at the bottom of the columns were glorified by being considered the foundations of the building. The saints were not struggling beneath the crushing weight of the roof; with the help of God’s grace, they held up the church.
That is, hopefully, our role as members of the Church; we will become saints with the great honour of helping to hold it up. And we won’t struggle with the weight because we will be imbued with God’s grace.
1. The Greco-Persian Wars, also simply called the Persian Wars, took place during the 5th century BC and contained the famous Battle of Marathon, where the Greeks crushed the Persians with a smaller army, fewer deaths, and better strategy.