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How Protestantism Changed the Interior of Churches

Church steeple plans

The inside of a church is similar no matter where you attend services. There will be a stage, aisles, and pews. The decor of course will be different, as will the religious idols from sect to sect. But the main features remain the same, and have remained the same, for hundreds of years. Surprisingly, this was not always the case. Some common features inside and outside the church, such as pews and steeples, have an interesting history.

We Did Not Always Want to Sit Down At Church Services.

It is true. Churches were once an open-plan affair, and except for a few orthodox groups, almost all churches have permanent pews for worshippers. It was actually not until after the Protestant Reformation that places of worship were outfitted with this church furniture. The reason for this shift at that moment in history was the way Protestants wanted to hear the Word. The religious service was altered to be primarily centered around the sermon portion of the event. Listening attentively for an extended period of time was tiring. Church pews used to fill this need were made of stone or plain wood, becoming a convenience and then a fixture everywhere.

Church pews were at times the subject of controversy. Yes, the humble bench was controversial because it could be an example of classism. The more wealthy town patrons were seated in exalted positions closer to the preacher giving them a chance to be seen in their finery, while the poor sat in the back near the door. This may not sound too bad until it is pointed out that the back rows were much colder in the winter due to their proximity to the door.

Some specialty pews would make accommodations for the church goers. Plush cushions, foot rests, and kneeling benches for sermons that ask for kneeling prayers are meant to provide a measure of comfort. Interestingly, the movement that brought about the necessity of church pews was known for its austerity.

Steeples, Spires, and Their Significance.

Steeples are not the same as spires, which is a common misconception. The spire is the very narrow point at the top of a church steeple. So when an individual is speaking of a spire, they may point to the whole of the steeples/spires located on the church. While steeples and the spires that top them are a well known sight, their significance is not as well known.

Some academics will tell you the builders of these glorious buildings felt the larger, taller, and just generally more lavish a church could be made the greater its glory would be for both God and the country that built it. As a warning, the spire at the top was meant to resemble a spear. It was also a show (and warning) of military strength. The word “steeples” is a combination of Germanic and Old English. The trend of adding a steeple or steeples to a church building was popular in France, Germany, and England, but was not as popular in Italy.

There are some things that have been around for as long as we can remember. But it is necessary, and in truth, fun, to take a moment to look back at how things came to be such a routine part of everyday life. The simple church pew is certainly one of these items. It would be considered very odd in today’s services to not sit down, and instead to walk amongst the other church goers and mingle. And would some of our oldest churches such as the Old South Meeting House in Boston look as stately without their steeple and spire? Maybe so, however; it is lovely to look at now.

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