Church (building)

A church building or church house, often simply called a church, is a building used for Christian religious activities, particularly for Christian worship services. The term is often used by Christians to refer to the physical buildings where they worship, but it is sometimes used (by analogy) to refer to buildings of other religions.[1] In traditional Christian architecture, the church is often arranged in the shape of a Christian cross. When viewed from plan view the longest part of a cross is represented by the aisle and the junction of the cross is located at the altar area.

Towers or domes are often added with the intention of directing the eye of the viewer towards the heavens and inspiring visitors. Modern church buildings have a variety of architectural styles and layouts; many buildings that were designed for other purposes have now been converted for church use, and, conversely, many original church buildings have been put to other uses.

The earliest identified Christian church building was a house church founded between 233 and 256. From the 11th through the 14th centuries, a wave of building of cathedrals and smaller parish churches were erected across Western Europe. A cathedral is a church building, usually Roman Catholic, Protestant (including Anglican), Eastern Orthodox, or Oriental Orthodox, housing a cathedra, the formal name for the seat or throne of a presiding bishop.

Madeleine Paris
La Madeleine, a Neoclassical, Roman Catholic church in Paris, France.


In Greek, the adjective kyriak-ós/-ē/-ón (κυριακόν) means "belonging, or pertaining, to a Kyrios" ("Lord"), and the usage was adopted by early Christians of the Eastern Mediterranean with regard to anything pertaining to the Lord Jesus Christ: hence "Kyriakós oíkos" (Kυριακός οίκος) ("house of the Lord", church), "Kyriakē" (Κυριακή) ("[the day] of the Lord", i.e. Sunday), or "Kyriakē proseukhē" (Greek: Κυριακή προσευχή) (the "Lord's Prayer").[2]

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - cyrican
Cyrican is an Old English word for churches and church property

In standard Greek usage, the older word "ecclesia" (Greek: ἐκκλησία, ekklesía, literally "assembly", "congregation", or the place where such a gathering occurs) was retained to signify both a specific edifice of Christian worship (a "church"), and the overall community of the faithful (the "Church"). This usage was also retained in Latin and the languages derived from Latin (e.g. French église, Italian chiesa, Spanish iglesia, Portuguese igreja, etc.), as well as in the Celtic languages (Welsh eglwys, Irish eaglais, Breton iliz, etc.) and in Turkish (kilise).[2]

In the Germanic and some Slavic languages, the word kyriak-ós/-ē/-ón was adopted instead and derivatives formed thereof. In Old English the sequence of derivation started as "cirice", then Middle English "churche", and eventually "church" in its current pronunciation. German Kirche, Scots kirk, Russian церковь (tserkov), etc., are all similarly derived.[3]



According to the New Testament, the earliest Christians did not build church buildings. Instead, they gathered in homes (Acts 17:5, 20:20, 1 Corinthians 16:19) or in Jewish worship places like the Second Temple or synagogues (Acts 2:46, 19:8). The earliest archeologically identified Christian church is a house church (domus ecclesiae), the Dura-Europos church, founded between 233 and 256.[4] 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 church buildings began to appear during the reign of the Emperor Constantine the Great.[5]

Medieval times

Frauenkirche München abends
The Frauenkirche in Munich is a largely Gothic, medieval church.

From the 11th through the 14th centuries, a wave of building of cathedrals and smaller parish churches occurred across Western Europe. In addition to being a place of worship, the cathedral or the parish church was used by the community in other ways. It could serve as a meeting place for guilds or a hall for banquets. Mystery plays were sometimes performed in cathedrals, and cathedrals might also be used for fairs. The church could be used as a place to thresh and store grain.[6]

Romanesque architecture

Between 1000 and 1200 the romanesque style became popular across Europe. While the name of the romanesque era refers to the tradition of Roman architecture, it was actually a West- and Central European trend. Romanesque buildings appear rather bulky and compact. Typical features are circular arches, round or octagonal towers and cushion capitals on the pillars. In the early romanesque era, coffering on the ceiling was fashionable, while later in the same era, groined vault was more popular. The rooms became wider and the motivs of sculptures became more epic.[7]

Gothic architecture

Santuario de Las Lajas, Ipiales, Colombia, 2015-07-21, DD 21-23 HDR-Edit
Las Lajas Sanctuary in southern Colombia.

The Gothic style emerged around 1140 in Île-de-France and spread through all of Europe. The gothic buildings were less compact than they had been in the romanesque era and often contained symbolic and allegoric features. For the first time, pointed arches, rib vaults and buttresses were used, with the result that massive walls were not longer needed to stabilise the building. Due to that advantage, the area of the windows became bigger, which resulted in a brighter and more friendly atmosphere inside the church. The nave became higher and so did the pillars and the church steeple. The amibition to test out the limits of the architectural possibilities resulted in the collapse of several towers. In Germany and the Netherlands, but also in Spain, it became popular to build hall churches, in which every vault has the same height.

Cathedrals were built in a very lavish way, as in the romanesque era. Examples for that are the Notre-Dame de Paris and the Notre-Dame de Reims in France, but also the San Francesco d’Assisi in Palermo, the Salisbury Cathedral and the Wool Church in Lavenham, England.

Many gothic churches contain features from the romanesque era. Some of the most well-known gothic churches stayed unfinished for hundreds of years, after the gothic style was not popular anymore. About half of the Cologne Cathedral was for example build in the 19th century.[8]


In the 15th and 16th century, the change 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 in a simplified way. The basilica was not the most popular type of church anymore, but instead hall churches were built. Typical features are columns and classical capitals.[9]

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

Baroque architecture

The baroque style was first used in Italy around 1575. From there it spread to the rest of Europe and to the European colonies. During the baroque era, the building industry increased heavily. Buildings, even churches, were used as indicators for wealth, authority and influence.The use of forms known from the renaissance were 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 raised until about 1720 to the rococo era.[10]

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


Norwich Cathedral from Cloisters, Norfolk, UK - Diliff
Norwich Cathedral in England is an example of a Cathedral complex built during the Middle Ages.

A common architecture for churches is the shape of a cross[11] (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 on the "west" end of the church or over the crossing.

Another common feature of many Christian churches is the eastwards orientation of the front altar.[12] Often, the altar will not be oriented due east, but in the direction of sunrise. This tradition originated in Byzantium in the 4th century, and becomes prevalent in the West in the 8th to 9th century. 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.[13]



The Latin word basilica (derived from Greek, Basiliké Stoà, Royal Stoa) was originally used to describe a Roman public building (as in Greece, mainly a tribunal), usually located in the forum of a Roman town.[14][15]

After the Roman Empire became officially Christian, the term came by extension to refer to a large and important church that has been given special ceremonial rights by the Pope. Thus the word retains two senses today, one architectural and the other ecclesiastical.

St. Peter and St. Paul's Church 1, Vilnius, Lithuania - Diliff
Central nave of St. Peter and St. Paul's Church, Vilnius, Lithuania looking north-east towards the altar. An example of a Baroque church interior.


Sant Vasily cathedral in Moscow
Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, Russia (today a museum) is a famous and characteristic example of a Russian Orthodox Church building.

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 that has the function of cathedral is not necessarily a large building. It might be as small as Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, England, 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.

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.

Conventual church

A conventual church (or monastery church, minster, katholikon) is the main church building in a Christian monastery or abbey.

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.

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[16] or city centre entertainment venues[17] On the other hand, many newer churches have decided to host meetings in public buildings such as schools,[18] universities,[19] cinemas[20] or theatres.[21]

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 an old Tram power station,[22] a former bus garage,[23] an old cinema and bingo hall,[24] a former Territorial Army Drill Hall,[25] and a former synagogue.[26] A windmill has also been converted into a church at Reigate Heath.

There has been an increase in partnerships between church management and private real estate companies to redevelop church properties into mixed uses. While it has garnered criticism from some, the partnership offers congregations the opportunity to increase revenue while preserving the property.[27]

See also


  1. ^ Use of the term "The Manichaean Church", Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ a b "Church". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  3. ^ "THE CORRECT MEANING OF "CHURCH" AND "ECCLESIA"". Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  4. ^ Snyder, Graydon F. (2003). Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Church Life Before Constantine. Mercer University Press. p. 128.
  5. ^ Hartog, Paul (ed.). The Contemporary Church and the Early Church: Case Studies in Ressourcement. Pickwick Publications. ISBN 978-1606088999. (Chapter 3)
  6. ^ Levy. Cathedrals and the Church. p. 12.
  7. ^ Toman, Rolf (30 April 2015). Romanesque: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting. h.f.ullmann. ISBN 9783848008407.
  8. ^ Frankl, Paul; Crossley, Paul (2000). Gothic Architecture. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300087993.
  9. ^ Anderson, Christy (28 February 2013). Renaissance Architecture. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780192842275.
  10. ^ Merz, Jörg Martin (2008). Pietro Da Cortona and Roman Baroque Architecture. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300111231.
  11. ^ Petit, John Louis (1841). Remarks on Church Architecture ... J. Burns.
  12. ^ "The Institute for Sacred Architecture | Articles | Sacred Places: The Significance of the Church Building". Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  13. ^ Heinrich Otte, Handbuch der kirchlichen Kunst-Archäologie des deutschen Mittelalters (Leipzig 1868), p. 12
  14. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art and Architecture (2013 ISBN 978-0-19968027-6), p. 117
  15. ^ "The Institute for Sacred Architecture - Articles- The Eschatological Dimension of Church Architecture".
  16. ^ Alexander, Lucy (14 December 2007). "Church conversions". The Times. London. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  17. ^ Site design and technology by "quality food and drink". Pitcher and Piano. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  18. ^ "Welcome to the Family Church Christchurch Dorset". The Family Church Christchurch. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  19. ^ "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.
  20. ^ "Jubilee Church London".
  21. ^ "Welcome to Hillsong Church". Hillsong Church UK. Retrieved 25 November 2016.
  22. ^ "CITY CHURCH NEWCASTLE & GATESHEAD – enjoying God...making friends...changing lives – Welcome". Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  23. ^ "Aylsham Community Church". Aylsham Community Church. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  24. ^ Hall, Reg (2004). Things are different now: A short history of Winchester Family Church. Winchester: Winchester Family Church. p. 11.
  25. ^ "ABOUT". Retrieved 5 December 2016.
  26. ^ "Where We Meet". City Church Sheffield. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
  27. ^ Friedman, Robyn A. "Churches Redeveloping Properties to Give Them New Life". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 23 October 2015.


  • Levy, Patricia (2004). Cathedrals and the Church. Medieval World. North Mankato, MN: Smart Apple Media. ISBN 1-58340-572-0.
  • Krieger, Herman (1998). Churches ad hoc. PhotoZone Press.
  • Erlande-Brandenburg, Alain, Qu'est-ce qu'une église ?, Gallimard, Paris, 333 p., 2010.
  • Gendry Mickael, L’église, un héritage de Rome, Essai sur les principes et méthodes de l’architecture chrétienne, Religions et Spiritualité, collection Beaux-Arts architecture religion, édition Harmattan 2009, 267 p.

External links

Aisleless church

An aisleless church (German: Saalkirche) is a single-nave church building that consists of a single hall-like room. While similar to the hall church, the aisleless church lacks aisles or passageways on either side of the nave and separated from the nave by colonnades or arcades, a row of pillars or columns. However, there is often no clear demarcation between the different building forms, and many churches, in the course of their construction history, developed from a combination of different types.

Early aisleless churches were generally small because of the difficulty of spanning a large, open space without using pillars or columns. In many places, where the population made it necessary and money was available, former medieval hall churches were extended over the course of centuries until they became a hall church or basilica. Starting in the Renaissance, the development of new technologies and better building materials allowed larger spaces to be spanned.

The basic form of the church hall is rectangular. Aisleless churches are generally aligned longitudinally so that the altar and choir are located at one of the narrower ends and are facing east. There are rare examples of transept aisleless churches, in which the altar area occupies the short side east of the transept.

This form of church building has proliferated since the Renaissance, especially in Protestant churches. It became the basis of modern church architecture. In Norway, the aisleless and elongated "long church" is the most common design and is regarded as the typical Norwegian church. The Norwegian long church usually includes a narthex/vestibule in a separate section, often in a somewhat lower and narrower room attached to the main body and traditionally in the western end of the building. Until the 1940 about 850 of Norway's 1300 churches were aisleless, these numbers does not include some 1000 perished stave churches many of which were aisleless. For instance Flesberg stave church for 500 years had a rectangular aisleless ground plan until it was expanded in 1735 by adding three arms to a cruciform aisleless shape.

Byzantine Revival architecture

The Byzantine Revival (also referred to as Neo-Byzantine) was an architectural revival movement, most frequently seen in religious, institutional and public buildings. It incorporates elements of the Byzantine style associated with Eastern and Orthodox Christian architecture dating from the 5th through 11th centuries, notably that of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) and the Exarchate of Ravenna.

Neo-Byzantine architecture emerged in the 1840s in Western Europe and peaked in the last quarter of the 19th century in the Russian Empire, and later Bulgaria. Neo-Byzantine school was active in Yugoslavia between World War I and World War II.

Byzantine architecture

Byzantine architecture is the architecture of the Byzantine Empire, or Eastern Roman Empire.

The Byzantine era is usually dated from 330 CE, when Constantine the Great moved the Roman capital to Byzantium, which became Constantinople, until the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. However, there was initially no hard line between the Byzantine and Roman empires, and early Byzantine architecture is stylistically and structurally indistinguishable from Roman architecture. This terminology was introduced by modern historians to designate the medieval Roman Empire as it evolved as a distinct artistic and cultural entity centered on the new capital of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) rather than the city of Rome and its environs.

Its architecture dramatically influenced the later medieval architecture throughout Europe and the Near East, and became the primary progenitor of the Renaissance and Ottoman architectural traditions that followed its collapse.

Chapel of ease

A chapel of ease (or chapel-of-ease) is a church building other than the parish church, built within the bounds of a parish for the attendance of those who cannot reach the parish church conveniently.

Christ Church Cathedral (Indianapolis)

Christ Church Cathedral is the cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis. Christ Church parish was formally organized in 1837. The present-day church building was erected in 1857 on Monument Circle at the center of downtown Indianapolis to replace the parish's first church built on the same site. Designed by architect William Tinsley, the English Gothic Revival-style structure is the oldest church building in Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana, that has remained in continuous use. It is also the oldest building on Monument Circle. Christ Church is known for its music, especially its pipe organs, one of which was donated by Ruth Lilly, and its professional Choir of Men and Boys and Girls' Choir. The parish is also known for its community service, including an annual strawberry festival fundraiser and other charitable work. Christ Church Cathedral was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 10, 1973. It is located in the Washington Street-Monument Circle Historic District.

Church architecture

Church architecture refers to the architecture of buildings of Christian churches. It has evolved over the two thousand years of the Christian religion, partly by innovation and partly by imitating other architectural styles as well as responding to changing beliefs, practices and local traditions. From the birth of Christianity to the present, the most significant objects of transformation for Christian architecture and design were the great churches of Byzantium, the Romanesque abbey churches, Gothic cathedrals and Renaissance basilicas with its emphasis on harmony. These large, often ornate and architecturally prestigious buildings were dominant features of the towns and countryside in which they stood. However, far more numerous were the parish churches in Christendom, the focus of Christian devotion in every town and village. While a few are counted as sublime works of architecture to equal the great cathedrals and churches, the majority developed along simpler lines, showing great regional diversity and often demonstrating local vernacular technology and decoration.

Buildings were at first from those originally intended for other purposes but, with the rise of distinctively ecclesiastical architecture, church buildings came to influence secular ones which have often imitated religious architecture. In the 20th century, the use of new materials, such as steel and concrete, has had an effect upon the design of churches. The history of church architecture divides itself into periods, and into countries or regions and by religious affiliation. The matter is complicated by the fact that buildings put up for one purpose may have been re-used for another, that new building techniques may permit changes in style and size, that changes in liturgical practice may result in the alteration of existing buildings and that a building built by one religious group may be used by a successor group with different purposes.

Church of Our Lady Help of Christians (Staten Island, New York)

The Church of Our Lady Help of Christians is a parish church under the authority of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, located in Tottenville, Staten Island, New York City. The church was established in 1890 as a mission of St. Joseph's Church (Rossville) and became an independent parish in 1898. Its first church building was constructed later that year. It burned down in 1985 and was rebuilt in 1990.

Church of St John the Baptist, Royston, Hertfordshire

The Church of St John the Baptist is an Anglican church in the town of Royston, Hertfordshire, England. The nave and aisles, which were built c. 1250, originally formed the quire and sanctuary of a large church belonging to the Augustinian Priory of Royston. It was converted to a parish church following the Dissolution of the Monasteries.On 9 December 2018 the church was severely damaged by a fire.

Church of the Resurrection (Rye, New York)

The Church of the Resurrection is a Roman Catholic church located in Rye, New York. The parish was founded in 1880, and the current church building was completed in 1931.

Churches in Norway

Church building in Norway began when Christianity was established there around the year 1000. The first buildings may have been post churches erected in the 10th or 11th century, but evidence is inconclusive. For instance under Urnes stave church and Lom Stave Church there are traces of older post churches. Post churches were later replaced by the more durable stave churches. About 1,300 churches were built during the 12th and 13th centuries in what was Norway's first building boom. A total of about 3,000 churches have been built in Norway, although nearly half of them have perished. From 1620 systematic records and accounts were kept although sources prior to 1620 are fragmented. Evidence about early and medieval churches is partly archaeological. The "long church" is the most common type of church in Norway. There are about 1620 buildings recognized as churches affiliated with the Church of Norway. In addition there is a number gospel halls belonging to the lay movement affiliated with the Church of Norway (not regarded as church buildings) as well as churches belonging to other Christian bodies. Until the 20th century most churches were built from wood. 220 buildings are protected by law, and an additional 765 are listed as valuable cultural heritage.

Commissioners' church

A Commissioners' church, also known as a Waterloo church and Million Act church, is an Anglican church in the United Kingdom built with money voted by Parliament as a result of the Church Building Acts of 1818 and 1824. The 1818 Act supplied a grant of money and established the Church Building Commission to direct its use, and in 1824 made a further grant of money. In addition to paying for the building of churches, the Commission had powers to divide and subdivide parishes, and to provide endowments. The Commission continued to function as a separate body until the end of 1856, when it was absorbed into the Ecclesiastical Commission. In some cases the Commissioners provided the full cost of the new church; in other cases they provided a partial grant and the balance was raised locally. In total 612 new churches were provided, mainly in expanding industrial towns and cities.

Eastern Orthodox church architecture

Eastern Orthodox church architecture constitutes a distinct, recognizable family of styles among church architectures. These styles share a cluster of fundamental similarities, having been influenced by the common legacy of Byzantine architecture from the Eastern Roman Empire. Some of the styles have become associated with the particular traditions of one specific autocephalous Orthodox patriarchate, whereas others are more widely used within the Eastern Orthodox Church.

These architectural styles have held substantial influence over cultures outside Eastern Orthodoxy; particularly in the architecture of Islamic mosques, but also to some degree in Western churches.

Old St. Patrick's Church (Chicago)

Old St. Patrick's Church, also known as St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church and commonly known as Old St. Pat's, is a Roman Catholic parish in Chicago, Illinois. Located at 700 West Adams Street, it has been described as the "cornerstone of Irish culture" in Chicago. The main church building is one of a handful of structures remaining in the city that predate the 1871 Great Chicago Fire, and is the city's oldest standing church building.

Parish church

A parish church (or parochial church) in Christianity is the church which acts as the religious centre of a parish. In many parts of the world, especially in rural areas, the parish church may play a significant role in community activities, often allowing its premises to be used for non-religious community events. The church building reflects this status, and there is considerable variety in the size and style of parish churches. Many villages in Europe have churches that date back to the Middle Ages, but all periods of architecture are represented.

Redundant church

Redundant church is a phrase particularly used to refer to former Anglican church buildings no longer required for regular public worship in the United Kingdom, but may refer to any disused church building around the world.

Reasons for redundancy include population movements, changing social patterns, merging of parishes, decline in church attendance (especially Christian decline in the Global North) or other factors. Although once simply demolished or left to ruin, today many redundant churches find new uses as community centres, museums, or homes.

Second Baptist Church (Mechanicsburg, Ohio)

Second Baptist Church is a historic church building in the village of Mechanicsburg, Ohio, United States. Constructed in the mid-19th century, it is the oldest church in the village, and it has been named a historic site.

St. Paul's Church (Melaka)

St. Paul's Church is a historic church building in Malacca City, Malaysia that was originally built in 1521, making it the oldest church building in Malaysia and Southeast Asia. It is located at the summit of St. Paul's Hill and is today part of the Malacca Museum Complex comprising the A Famosa ruins, the Stadthuys and other historical buildings.


Womboota is a locality in the centre south part of the Riverina. It is situated by road, about 26 kilometres (16 mi) north from Moama and 28 kilometres (17 mi) south west from Bunnaloo. At the 2006 census, Womboota had a population of 340.Womboota is located in the Deniliquin land district and the Murray River Council and is on the Balranald branch line of the Deniliquin railway line.

Womboota Post Office opened on 1 July 1899 and closed in 1979.

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