AskDefine | Define churches

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. Plural of church

Extensive Definition

A church is a building used for prayer, worship, or other public religious services, usually referring specifically to those for Christian worship.


Early development

The first Christians were, like Jesus, Jews resident in Israel who worshiped on occasion in the Temple in Jerusalem and weekly in local synagogues. Temple worship was a ritual involving sacrifice, occasionally including the sacrifice of animals in atonement for sin, offered to Yahweh until Jesus became the final sacrificial offering on Calvary. The New Testament includes many references to Jesus visiting the Temple, the first time as an infant with his parents.
The early history of the synagogue is obscure, but it seems to be an institution developed for public Jewish worship during the Babylonian captivity when the Jews did not have access to the Jerusalem Temple for ritual sacrifice. Instead, they developed a daily and weekly service of readings from the Torah or the prophets followed by commentary. This could be carried out in a house if the attendance was small enough, and in many towns of the Diaspora that was the case. In others, more elaborate architectural settings developed, sometimes by converting a house and sometimes by converting a previously public building. The minimum requirements seem to have been a meeting room with adequate seating, a case for the Torah scrolls, and a raised platform for the reader and preacher.
Jesus himself participated in this sort of service as a reader and commentator (see Gospel of Luke 4: 16-24) and his followers probably remained worshipers in synagogues in some cities. However, following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70, the new Christian movement and Judaism increasingly parted ways. The Church became overwhelmingly Gentile sometime in the 2nd century.
The Syrian city of Dura-Europos on the West bank of the Euphrates was an outpost town between the Roman and Parthian empires. During a siege by Parthian troops in A.D. 257 the buildings in the outermost blocks of the city grid were partially destroyed and filled with rubble to reinforce the city wall. Thus were preserved and securely dated the earliest decorated church and a synagogue decorated with extensive wall paintings. Both had been converted from earlier private buildings.
The church at Dura Europos has a special room dedicated for baptisms with a large baptismal font.

Churches in medieval Europe

During the 11th through 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 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.


A common architecture for churches is the shape of a cross (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.

Types of churches


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.
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 rites by the Pope. Thus the word retains two senses today, one architectural and the other ecclesiastical.


A cathedral is a church, usually Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Eastern Orthodox, housing the seat of a bishop. The word cathedral takes its name from the word cathedra, or Bishop's Throne (In Latin: ecclesia cathedralis). The term is sometimes (improperly) used to refer to any church of great size.
The church that has the function of cathedral is not of necessity a large building. It might be as small as Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford or Chur Cathedral, Switzerland. But frequently, the cathedral, along with some of the abbey churches, was the largest building in any region.

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 or city centre entertainment venues On the other hand, many newer Churches have decided to host meetings in public buildings such as schools, universities , cinemas or theatres.
There is another trend to convert old buildings for worship use rather than face the construction costs and planning difficulties of a new build. Unusual venues in the UK include an old Tram power station , a former bus garage , an old cinema and bingo hall , a former Territorial Army Drill Hall, a former synagogue and a windmill.

See also




  • Cathedrals and the Church

External links

churches in Afrikaans: Kerk (gebou)
churches in Bulgarian: Църква (сграда)
churches in Catalan: Església (arquitectura)
churches in Czech: Kostel
churches in Welsh: Eglwys
churches in Danish: Kirke (bygning)
churches in German: Kirche (Architektur)
churches in Estonian: Kirik (pühakoda)
churches in Spanish: Iglesia (edificio)
churches in Esperanto: Preĝejo
churches in French: Église (édifice)
churches in Western Frisian: Tsjerke
churches in Korean: 교회
churches in Croatian: Crkva
churches in Indonesian: Gereja
churches in Italian: Chiesa (architettura)
churches in Lithuanian: Bažnyčia
churches in Hungarian: Egyház
churches in Macedonian: Црква
churches in Dutch: Kerkgebouw
churches in Dutch Low Saxon: Kaark (gebouw)
churches in Nepali: गिर्जाघर
churches in Japanese: 教会堂
churches in Norwegian Nynorsk: Kyrkje
churches in Narom: Égllise
churches in Occitan (post 1500): Glèisa (edifici)
churches in Panjabi: ਗਿਰਜਾ
churches in Low German: Kark (Huus)
churches in Polish: Kościół (budynek)
churches in Romanian: Biserică (edificiu)
churches in Quechua: Inlisya
churches in Northern Sami: Girku
churches in Scots: Kirk
churches in Albanian: Kisha
churches in Simple English: Church
churches in Slovak: Kostol
churches in Slovenian: Cerkev (zgradba)
churches in Finnish: Kirkko (rakennus)
churches in Swedish: Kyrka
churches in Turkish: Kilise (bina)
churches in Walloon: Eglijhe (bastimint)
churches in Vlaams: Kerkgebouw
churches in Yiddish: קלויסטער
churches in Dimli: Kilıse
churches in Samogitian: Bažnīčė
churches in Chinese: 教堂
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