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Church (building)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Milan Cathedral is a Gothic church in Italy
Typical church building in the United Kingdom
Baptist church in the United States

A church, church building, or church house is a building used for Christian worship services and other Christian religious activities. The earliest identified Christian church is a house church founded between 233 and 256.

Sometimes, the word church is used by analogy and simplicity for the buildings of other religions, such as mosques and synagogues.[1][2] Church is also used to describe a body or an assembly of Christian believers, while "the Church" may be used to refer to the worldwide Christian religious community as a whole.[3]

In traditional Christian architecture, the plan view of a church often forms a Christian cross with the center aisle and seating representing the vertical beam and the bema and altar forming the horizontal. Towers or domes may inspire contemplation of the heavens. Modern churches have a variety of architectural styles and layouts. Some buildings designed for other purposes have been converted to churches, while many original church buildings have been put to other uses. From the 11th through the 14th centuries, there was a wave of church construction in Western Europe.

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Cyrican is an Old English word for churches and church property

The word church is derived from Old English cirice, "place of assemblage set aside for Christian worship", from the Proto-Germanic kirika. This was probably borrowed via the Gothic from the Greek kyriake (oikia), kyriakon doma, "the Lord's (house)", from kyrios, "ruler, lord". Kyrios in turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European language root *keue meaning "to swell".

The Greek kyriakon, "of the Lord", was used of houses of Christian worship since c. 300 AD, especially in the East, although it was less common in this sense than ekklesia or basilike.[4]



South facade of the Church of Saint Simeon Stylites in Aleppo, Syria, is considered to be one of the oldest surviving church buildings in the world

The earliest archeologically identified Christian church is a house church (domus ecclesiae), the Dura-Europos church, founded between 233 and 256.[5]

In the second half of the 3rd century AD, the first purpose-built halls for Christian worship (aula ecclesiae) began to be constructed. Although many of these were destroyed early in the next century during the Diocletianic Persecution. Even larger and more elaborate churches began to appear during the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great.[6]

Medieval times

From the 11th through the 14th centuries, a wave of cathedral building and the construction of smaller parish churches occurred across Western Europe. Besides serving as a place of worship, the cathedral or parish church was frequently employed as a general gathering place by the communities in which they were located, hosting such events as guild meetings, banquets, mystery plays, and fairs. Church grounds and buildings were also used for the threshing and storage of grain.[7]

Romanesque architecture

Between 1000 and 1200, the Romanesque style became popular across Europe. The Romanesque style is defined by large and bulky edifices typically composed of simple, compact, sparsely decorated geometric structures. Frequent features of the Romanesque church include circular arches, round or octagonal towers, and cushion capitals on pillars. In the early Romanesque era, coffering on the ceiling was fashionable, while later in the same era, groined vaults gained popularity. Interiors widened, and the motifs of sculptures took on more epic traits and themes.[8]

Gothic architecture

The Cathedral of Ani, one of the founders of the Gothic style of architecture.
The Frauenkirche in Munich is a largely Gothic, medieval church.

The Gothic style emerged around 1140 in Île-de-France and subsequently spread throughout Europe. Gothic churches lost the compact qualities of the Romanesque era, and decorations often contained symbolic and allegorical features. The first pointed arches, rib vaults, and buttresses began to appear, all possessing geometric properties that reduced the need for large, rigid walls to ensure structural stability. This also permitted the size of windows to increase, producing brighter and lighter interiors. Nave ceilings rose, and pillars and steeples heightened. Many architects used these developments to push the limits of structural possibility, an inclination that resulted in the collapse of several towers whose designs that had unwittingly exceeded the boundaries of soundness. In Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain, it became popular to build hall churches, a style in which every vault would be built to the same height.

Gothic cathedrals were lavishly designed, as in the Romanesque era, and many share Romanesque traits. However, several also exhibit unprecedented degrees of detail and complexity in decoration. The Notre-Dame de Paris and Notre-Dame de Reims in France, as well as the San Francesco d’Assisi in Palermo, the Salisbury Cathedral and Wool Church in England, and Santhome Church in Chennai, India, show the elaborate stylings characteristic of Gothic cathedrals.

Some of the most well-known gothic churches remained unfinished for centuries after the style fell out of popularity. One such example is the construction of the Cologne Cathedral, which began in 1248, was halted in 1473, and was not resumed until 1842.[9]


In the 15th and 16th centuries, the changes in ethics and society due to the Renaissance and the Reformation also influenced the building of churches. The common style was much like the Gothic style but simplified. The basilica was not the most popular type of church anymore, but instead, hall churches were built. Typical features are columns and classical capitals.[10]

In Protestant churches, where the proclamation of God's Word is of particular importance, the visitor's line of sight is directed towards the pulpit.

Baroque architecture

Central nave of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Vilnius, Lithuania, an example of a Baroque church interior

The Baroque style was first used in Italy around 1575. From there, it spread to the rest of Europe and the European colonies. The building industry increased heavily during the Baroque era. Buildings, even churches, were used to indicate wealth, authority, and influence. The use of forms known from the Renaissance was extremely exaggerated. Domes and capitals were decorated with moulding, and the former stucco sculptures were replaced by fresco paintings on the ceilings. For the first time, churches were seen as one connected work of art, and consistent artistic concepts were developed. Instead of long buildings, more central-plan buildings were created. The sprawling decoration with floral ornamentation and mythological motives lasted until about 1720 in the Rococo era.[11]

The Protestant parishes preferred lateral[clarification needed] churches, in which all the visitors could be as close as possible to the pulpit and the altar.[citation needed]


The view of the spire of Norwich Cathedral from the cloisters, in Norfolk, England

A common trait of the architecture of many churches is the shape of a cross[12] (a long central rectangle, with side rectangles and a rectangle in front for the altar space or sanctuary). These churches also often have a dome or other large vaulted space in the interior to represent or draw attention to the heavens. Other common shapes for churches include a circle, to represent eternity, or an octagon or similar star shape, to represent the church's bringing light to the world. Another common feature is the spire, a tall tower at the "west" end of the church or over the crossing.[citation needed]

Another common feature of many Christian churches is the eastwards orientation of the front altar.[13] Often, the altar will not be oriented due east but toward the sunrise.[clarification needed] This tradition originated in Byzantium in the 4th century and became prevalent in the West in the 8th and 9th centuries. The old Roman custom of having the altar at the west end and the entrance at the east was sometimes followed as late as the 11th century, even in areas of northern Europe under Frankish rule, as seen in Petershausen (Constance), Bamberg Cathedral, Augsburg Cathedral, Regensburg Cathedral, and Hildesheim Cathedral.[14]



The Latin word basilica was initially used to describe a Roman public building usually located in the forum of a Roman town.[15][16] After the Roman Empire became officially Christian, the term came by extension to refer to a large and influential church that has been given special ceremonial rights by the Pope.[17] The word thus retains two senses today, one architectural and the other ecclesiastical.


A cathedral is a church, usually Catholic, Anglican, Oriental Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox, housing the seat of a bishop. The word cathedral takes its name from cathedra, or Bishop's Throne (In Latin: ecclesia cathedralis). The term is sometimes (improperly) used to refer to any church of great size.

A church with a cathedral function is not necessarily a large building. It might be as small as Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, England, Porvoo Cathedral in Porvoo, Finland, Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh, United States, or Chur Cathedral in Switzerland. However, frequently, the cathedral, along with some of the abbey churches, was the largest building in any region.


Either, a discrete space with an altar inside a larger cathedral, conventual, parish, or other church; or, a free standing small church building or room not connected to a larger church, to serve a particular hospital, school, university, prison, private household, or other institution. Often proprietary churches and small conventual churches are referred to by this term.

Collegiate church

A collegiate church is a church where the daily office of worship is maintained by a college of canons, which may be presided over by a dean or provost. Collegiate churches were often supported by extensive lands held by the church, or by tithe income from appropriated benefices. They commonly provide distinct spaces for congregational worship and for the choir offices of their clerical community.

Conventual church

A conventual church (in Eastern Orthodoxy katholikon) is the main church in a Christian monastery, known variously as an abbey, a priory, a convent, a friary, or a preceptory.

Parish church

A parish church is a church built to meet the needs of people localised in a geographical area called a parish. The vast majority of Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran church buildings fall into this category. A parish church may also be a basilica, a cathedral, a conventual or collegiate church, or a place of pilgrimage. The vast majority of parish churches do not however enjoy such privileges.

Pilgrimage church

A pilgrimage church is a church to which pilgrimages are regularly made, or a church along a pilgrimage route, often located at the tomb of a saints, or holding icons or relics to which miraculous properties are ascribed, the site of Marian apparitions, etc.

Proprietary church

During the Middle Ages, a proprietary church was a church, abbey, or cloister built on the private grounds of a feudal lord, over which he retained proprietary interests.

Evangelical church structures

The architecture of evangelical places of worship is mainly characterized by its sobriety.[18][19] The Latin cross is a well known Christian symbol that can usually be seen on the building of an evangelical church and that identifies the place's belonging.[20][21] Some services take place in theaters, schools or multipurpose rooms, rented for Sunday only.[22][23][24] There is usually a baptistery at the front of the church (in what is known as the chancel in historic traditions) or in a separate room for baptisms by immersion.[25][26]

Worship services take on impressive proportions in the megachurches (churches where more than 2,000 people gather every Sunday). In some of these megachurches, more than 10,000 people gather every Sunday. The term gigachurch is sometimes used.[27][28] For example, Lakewood Church (United States) or Yoido Full Gospel Church (South Korea).[29]

House church

In some countries of the world which apply sharia or communism, government authorizations for worship are complex for Christians.[30][31][32] Because of persecution of Christians, Evangelical house churches have thus developed.[33] For example, there is the Evangelical house churches in China movement.[34] The meetings thus take place in private houses, in secret and in "illegality".[35]

Alternative buildings

Old and disused church buildings can be seen as an interesting proposition for developers as the architecture and location often provide for attractive homes[36] or city centre entertainment venues.[37] On the other hand, many newer churches have decided to host meetings in public buildings such as schools,[38] universities,[39] cinemas[40] or theatres.[41]

There is another trend to convert old buildings for worship rather than face the construction costs and planning difficulties of a new build. Unusual venues in the UK include a former tram power station,[42] a former bus garage,[43] a former cinema and bingo hall,[44] a former Territorial Army drill hall,[45] and a former synagogue.[46] HMS Tees served as a floating church for mariners at Liverpool from 1827 until she sank in 1872.[47] A windmill has also been converted into a church at Reigate Heath.

There have been increased partnerships between church management and private real estate companies to redevelop church properties into mixed uses. While it has garnered criticism, the partnership allows congregations to increase revenue while preserving the property.[48]

See also


  1. ^ Use of the term "The Manichaean Church" Archived 3 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ "The term church is found, but not specifically defined, in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). The term is not used by all faiths; however, in an attempt to make this publication easy to read, we use it in its generic sense as a place of worship including, for example, mosques and synagogues." [1] Archived 7 April 2019 at the Wayback Machine, US IRS Tax Guide for Churches & Religious Organizations
  3. ^ "Church | Definition, History, & Types | Britannica". 22 June 2023. Archived from the original on 12 January 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2021.
  4. ^ "Church". Online Etymology Dictionary. Archived from the original on 31 July 2016. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  5. ^ Snyder, Graydon F. (2003). Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Church Life Before Constantine. Mercer University Press. p. 128.
  6. ^ Hartog, Paul, ed. (February 2010). The Contemporary Church and the Early Church: Case Studies in Ressourcement. Pickwick Publications. ISBN 978-1606088999. (Chapter 3)
  7. ^ Levy. Cathedrals and the Church. p. 12.
  8. ^ Toman, Rolf (30 April 2015). Romanesque: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting. h.f.ullmann. ISBN 9783848008407.
  9. ^ Frankl, Paul; Crossley, Paul (2000). Gothic Architecture. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300087993.
  10. ^ Anderson, Christy (28 February 2013). Renaissance Architecture. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780192842275.
  11. ^ Merz, Jörg Martin (2008). Pietro Da Cortona and Roman Baroque Architecture. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300111231.
  12. ^ Petit, John Louis (1841). Remarks on Church Architecture ... J. Burns.
  13. ^ "The Institute for Sacred Architecture | Articles | Sacred Places: The Significance of the Church Building". Archived from the original on 16 August 2017. Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  14. ^ Heinrich Otte, Handbuch der kirchlichen Kunst-Archäologie des deutschen Mittelalters (Leipzig 1868), p. 12
  15. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art and Architecture (2013 ISBN 978-0-19968027-6), p. 117
  16. ^ "The Institute for Sacred Architecture - Articles- The Eschatological Dimension of Church Architecture". Archived from the original on 9 February 2022. Retrieved 8 April 2016.
  17. ^ "basilica | Etymology, origin and meaning of basilica by etymonline". Archived from the original on 17 August 2023. Retrieved 17 August 2023.
  18. ^ Peter W. Williams, Houses of God: Region, Religion, and Architecture in the United States, University of Illinois Press, USA, 2000, p. 125
  19. ^ Murray Dempster, Byron D. Klaus, Douglas Petersen, The Globalization of Pentecostalism: A Religion Made to Travel, Wipf and Stock Publishers, USA, 2011, p. 210
  20. ^ Mark A. Lamport, Encyclopedia of Christianity in the Global South, Volume 2, Rowman & Littlefield, USA, 2018, p. 32
  21. ^ Anne C. Loveland, Otis B. Wheeler, From Meetinghouse to Megachurch: A Material and Cultural History, University of Missouri Press, USA, 2003, p. 149
  22. ^ Annabelle Caillou, Vivre grâce aux dons et au bénévolat Archived 6 November 2020 at the Wayback Machine,, Canada, 10 November 2018
  23. ^ Helmuth Berking, Silke Steets, Jochen Schwenk, Religious Pluralism and the City: Inquiries into Postsecular Urbanism, Bloomsbury Publishing, UK, 2018, p. 78
  24. ^ George Thomas Kurian, Mark A. Lamport, Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States, Volume 5, Rowman & Littlefield, USA, 2016, p. 1359
  25. ^ William H. Brackney, Historical Dictionary of the Baptists, Scarecrow Press, USA, 2009, p. 61
  26. ^ Wade Clark Roof, Contemporary American Religion, Volume 1, Macmillan, UK, 2000, p. 49
  27. ^ Sam Hey, Megachurches: Origins, Ministry, and Prospects, Wipf and Stock Publishers, USA, 2013, p. 265.
  28. ^ Ed Stetzer, Megachurch Research - Terminology Archived 16 May 2021 at the Wayback Machine,, USA, October 9, 2008.
  29. ^ Alicia Budich, From Megachurch to "Gigachurch",, USA, April 6, 2012.
  30. ^ Erwin Fahlbusch, Geoffrey William Bromiley, The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 4, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, USA, 2005, p. 163.
  31. ^ Yves Mamou, Yves Mamou: «Les persécutions de chrétiens ont lieu en majorité dans des pays musulmans» Archived 11 January 2021 at the Wayback Machine,, France, March 20, 2019
  32. ^ Wesley Rahn, In Xi we trust - Is China cracking down on Christianity? Archived 20 February 2021 at the Wayback Machine,, Germany, January 19, 2018
  33. ^ Allan Heaton Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2013, p. 104.
  34. ^ Brian Stiller, Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century, Thomas Nelson, USA, 2015, p. 328
  35. ^ Mark A. Lamport, Encyclopedia of Christianity in the Global South, Volume 2, Rowman & Littlefield, USA, 2018, p. 364.
  36. ^ Alexander, Lucy (14 December 2007). "Church conversions". The Times. London. Archived from the original on 1 May 2009. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  37. ^ Site design and technology by "quality food and drink". Pitcher and Piano. Archived from the original on 31 October 2011. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  38. ^ "Welcome to the Family Church Christchurch Dorset". The Family Church Christchurch. Archived from the original on 20 October 2011. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  39. ^ "Welcome to The Hope Church, Manchester... A Newfrontiers Church based in Salford, Greater Manchester UK". Archived from the original on 2 February 2010. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  40. ^ "Jubilee Church London". Archived from the original on 27 December 2010. Retrieved 23 December 2010.
  41. ^ "Welcome to Hillsong Church". Hillsong Church UK. Archived from the original on 27 November 2016. Retrieved 25 November 2016.
  42. ^ "CITY CHURCH NEWCASTLE & GATESHEAD – enjoying God...making friends...changing lives – Welcome". Archived from the original on 6 October 2011. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  43. ^ "Aylsham Community Church". Aylsham Community Church. Archived from the original on 13 September 2011. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  44. ^ Hall, Reg (2004). Things are different now: A short history of Winchester Family Church. Winchester: Winchester Family Church. p. 11.
  45. ^ "ABOUT". Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
  46. ^ "Where We Meet". City Church Sheffield. Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
  47. ^ "Local and General". Leeds Mercury. No. 10660. Leeds. 10 June 1872.
  48. ^ Friedman, Robyn A. "Churches Redeveloping Properties to Give Them New Life". The Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Archived from the original on 13 July 2017. Retrieved 23 October 2015.


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