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A church building, often simply called a church, is a building used for religious activities particularly worship services. The term in its architectural sense is most often used by Christians to refer to their religious buildings but can be used by other religions. In traditional Christian architecture, the church is often arranged in the shape of a 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 church 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, similarly, many original church buildings have been put to other uses.
The first Christians were, like Jesus, Israelites resident in Roman 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 the God of Israel. The New Testament includes many references to Jesus visiting the Temple, the first time as an infant with his parents, see Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. 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 (and Jewish Proselytes) did not have access to a Temple (the First Temple having been destroyed c. 586 BC) for ritual sacrifice. Instead, they developed a daily and weekly service of readings from the Torah, and possibly also 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 scroll, and a raised platform for the reader.
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, for example the Cenacle in Jerusalem. However, following the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, the new Christian movement and Rabbinic Judaism increasingly parted ways (see also List of events in early Christianity). The Church became overwhelmingly Gentile sometime in the 4th century, the era of Constantine I and Christianity and the later setting up of a state church of the Roman Empire.
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 AD 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 an early decorated church and a synagogue decorated with extensive wall paintings. Both had been converted from earlier private buildings.
In Greek, the adjective kyriak-ós/-ē/-ón means "belonging, or pertaining, to a Kýrios" ("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" ("house of the Lord", church), "Kyriakē" ("[the day] of the Lord", i.e. Sunday), or "Kyriakē proseukhē" (the "Lord's prayer").
In standard Greek usage, the older word "ecclesia" (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.).
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" (Ki-ri-keh), then "churche" (kerke), and eventually "church" in its traditional pronunciation. German Kirche, Scottish kirk, Russian tserkov, etc., are all similarly derived.
The earliest identified Christian house church is the Dura-Europos church, founded between 233 and 256.
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.
|This section requires expansion. (April 2013)|
|This section requires expansion. (April 2013)|
Throughout the last few centuries, the types of churches have become much more widespread. Some have gospel choirs while other are in total silence. The ornateness of churches varies widely depending on the religion of the deity being worshiped, or the praying culture of the community. Due to various cultural and social reasons, most churches have seen a decline in attendance in recent years.
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.
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 rights 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, 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.
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 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.
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