From Stone Benches to Elaborate Seating The Church Pew


Antique church pews

When you look at images of historical landmarks, many of these feature old churches complete with ornate spires. Steeples, however, are a more modern design element. Nevertheless, church steeple pictures also predominate in many historical and modern photographic displays.

If you are curious about the exterior and interior architecture of cathedrals and great churches, were you aware that many of these have a cruciform floor plan? Furthermore, if you’ve traveled extensively in Europe and the United States, you may have noticed that the largest and oldest buildings are usually local churches.

Were you aware that private homes were usually the first churches? For several centuries, Christians needed to gather in secret to worship. This was particularly true from the first through the early fourth centuries because it was illegal to be a practicing Christian. During that time period, there were very few churches being built as we recognize them today.

Once churches began being constructed, they didn’t usually have places to sit, or pews. For over 1,000 years, church members would stand and mingle with the rest of the congregation. During the 13th century, however, the first pews began to appear. These were made of stone, rather than wood, and were set up against and along a church’s walls.

It’s interesting to note that there is a direct relationship between the creation of pews and the rise of traditional moral and religious talks, or sermons. Once these became a central practice within Christian worship, particularly with Protestants, there became a need for worshippers to be able to sit facing the speaker. Eventually these individuals stood on raised stands, or pulpits.

Originally, pews weren’t permanent objects of furniture within churches. It wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation, which occurred during 1517 through 1648, that pews were regularly included. Once pews became commonplace, seating arrangements were based on social rank. During the 1600s through the mid 1800s, for example, the upper class, as well as individuals with high social ranking, were able to sit closest to the altar.

An interesting controversy regarding pew rentals emerged during the 1840s through 1850s. This was particularly the case with the Church of England. “Free Churches” were founded during this time by several Anglo-Catholic parishes that didn’t rent pews to individuals or families to raise income.

The practice of pew renting was actually common up through the early-to-middle part of the 20th century. This was the principal way in which Anglicans, Catholics, and Presbyterians were able to fund their churches’ coffers.

Currently, pews are common throughout most churches. While some may have cushioned, bench-like seating with footrests, or hassocks, other churches may offer simple wooden benches. For churches that include kneeling prayer as part of their style of workshop, seating may include benches with cushioned kneelers.

The next time you look at a picture of a church steeple, you may find yourself thinking of how church furniture, especially church pews, has evolved over the centuries. There are so many intriguing church steeple pictures that provide a glimpse into Christianity’s rich history and symbolism. Church steeple pictures, as well as other images that portray symbolic architecture, are as beautiful as they are up-lifting.

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