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Religion Library: Christianity

Sacred Space

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

Emerging from Judaism as it did, Christianity customarily frowned on the making of images or likenesses. As the church attracted increasing numbers of non-Jewish converts, congregants brought pictures into the churches. icons in an Eastern Orthodox church Source: Western church quickly adopted the statues, frescoes, mosaics, and pictures of Jesus that grew in popularity. The Eastern Church largely avoided statues, but embraced frescoes, mosaics, and icons. Statues decorated the interiors and exteriors of churches, and in Gothic churches, stained glass depicted scenes from the Old and New Testaments.

Stained glass windows of the Chartres cathedral Source: to a focus on the preaching of the word of God and desiring to remove what they considered to be distractions from hearing this word, some Protestant reformers stripped church interiors of decoration, including paintings, statues, furniture, and stained glass. They sometimes rearranged the interior of the church, moving the pulpit to the center, or arranging the pulpit, altar, and baptismal font together at the eastern end. This allowed all present to hear and see everything and focus on the word of God. The plain walls and plain glass in the windows brightened the interiors of these churches.

Modern Christians in the West, particularly in the United States, have a wide range of architectural styles to choose from. Relatively new building materials such as steel beams, reinforced concrete, and large structural glass panels allow architects to experiment with design. Notable examples are the Crystal Cathedral in southern California and the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Mary in San Francisco. Some congregations meet in ordinary locations like office buildings or storefronts, and many Christians still meet in homes, much as the early Christians did.

Saint Mary in San Francisco Source: Cathedral Source:

Study Questions:
1.     Describe the first churches. How were they managed? Why were they secretive?
2.     How did the pulpit and altar develop? 

3.     How do Christian churches differ in architecture to Eastern Orthodox churches?
4.     Why did many Christian churches choose to move away from iconography?


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