Types of Church Building
church is not the buildings, but the people of God gathered to worship
Him. However, the buildings say something about the worship held
within, and about the original intention of those who founded them.
There are, and always have been, different buildings for different
worship 'purposes'. Cathedrals for the focus of worship of whole
regions, to small chapels for simple ordinary prayer. Some church
buildings had political importance, some not. As you will see by
following the links below, just by looking at this list of different
buildings, you will find a wide range of diverse and unique witness to
faith. Here we explore the
different types of building:
A large, grand building usually,
originally the seat of worship for a religious community. Abbeys in
England were abolished at the reformation and many destroyed by King
Henry 8th. Those that survived from that period did so because
they adapted to becoming churches within the reformed church of England
under the sovereign King Henry. Famous examples include Westminster
Abbey, London; Sherborne Abbey,
Dorset, England. In some cases the abbey as a unit survives, such as
when it became a school, the church often giving the name to the school
that takes over its buildings, for example Milton Abbey,
Dorset, England. In this example, the abbey church is still a
functioning public church, and the school has its 'own' church within
its grounds. Picture: Sherborne Abbey, England.
always very large buildings indeed. The seat of and focus of worship in
a region or district called a diocese. They have the throne of the
Bishop within. Famous examples include St Paul's Cathedral, London;
Salisbury Cathedral; Durham Cathedral. Not all cathedrals are old, Coventry Cathedral being rebuilt after the second war. Southwark Roman Catholic Cathedral has similar wartime history. Some cathedrals share the same name: there are two Southwark Cathedrals, one Roman Catholic, the other Anglican. Not all Cathedrals are big, St Davids Cathedral is no bigger than some large parish churches.
these are municipal and not ecclesially managed burial grounds. They
are therefore not strictly Christian, as the dead of other faiths and
none are buried within. However, in many places they are filled with
Christian symbols and monuments.
non-conformist Many small communities around the
world have a chapel, a small 'church' building usually plain and
simple, as a
functional place where worship may be held. The term
chapel was used by many to differentiate between the 'church'
which was the established or national establishments offering in
the community. Many chapels where very popular when the christians
wanted to worship in ways which were 'free' from constraint as they saw
it of the established or official church. Many denominations which call
themselves Free Church had chapels in this sense. Some of the
non-conformist or free church organisations built chapels which had
gothic and grand architecture and in some ways emulated the 'church'
building. Many evangelical congregations call their buildings 'chapel'.
The picture here shows a building typical of the type.
of rest The name given to the place where the coffin
of the deceased is placed prior to the burial service. Mostly private
and run by those making the funeral arrangements, these are not
strictly places of worship and not necessarily Christian.
- part of cathedral
Most if not all, large churches
and cathedrals have chapels within them, smaller places within the main
building, with an altar which can be used for worship by smaller
congregations. Many of these chapels are themselves dedicated to a
patron saint different to the patronal saint of the cathedral as a
whole. Many such chapels are called 'Lady Chapel' in reverence to Mary
Mother of Jesus. Sometimes an especially important part of the
cathedral, often a part reserved for the clergy, is called a chapel,
for example the Trinity Chapel in Salisbury Cathedral.
Church - country parish
The archetypal 'country church', very often with a
tower or spire, and set in its own churchyard with graves of the
faithful within. This picture is of St Andrews (Church of England) parish church in Kinson on the outskirts of Bournemouth.
Church - town
Fulfils the same basic purpose as a country church but set in an urban
or sub-urban environment. Sometimes the door opens straight out onto
the street, and often there was insufficient land to build a
churchyard. Anyhow, there would be a municipal cemetery so this
was less of a consideration. For me, Rosebery Park Baptist Church, Bournemouth, England springs to mind.
- unusual Some 'churches' hold
their worship in schools, warehouses etc. These are not specific places
of worship, and those who attend are not interested in having a place
which is consecrated ground: their worship is perfectly valid
where ever it is held. These buildings mean that large congregations
can have access to a place with electricity, toilet facilities, seating
etc and very often good car parking facilities for a small sum of rent
paid to the school authority, or warehouse owner each week. Some
congregations do this with the municipal cemetery chapel, by
renting it for use on a sunday when burials do not take place. Many of
these buildings look and feel ecclesial and are well suited to this.
Some Salvation Army places of worship are called
'Citadels'. This organisation being recognisably different from other
churches in clothing, governance, and buildings too.
The buildings of a religious community of women. Not
just the place of worship, but accomodation, kitchens and often school
The place where cremations take
place. Usually a chapel or two in the centre of a municiple cemetery,
with the cremation rooms below.
This term means a below ground
chamber or room, often below a church or cathedral building, used as a
tomb for a number of coffins of the deceased.
The term is applied to the system of government of the organisation
which runs the place of worship. It is not terminology for the
building. However, many of the constructions used by Free Churches are
readily identifiable as they attempted to be visually different from
the 'parish' church.
The term used of the area of ground around (or if not adjacent, then
associated with) a church and used as a place where their dead are
buried and their gravestones (memorial stones) placed. This term
usually implies a church connection, as it will be called cemetery if
Some 'free churches' did not call their buildings either 'church' or
'chapel'. They would call their buildings 'Hall' instead. This was
popular around 1880 to 1920, and does not seem to be used in the same
way today. An example is the 'Emmanuel Hall' which was the main church building of the Apostolic Faith Church. Perhaps the most famous example of this, the Methodist Central Hall,
in London came about in a different way: Methodism was not episcopal,
and so did not have cathedrals. How do you call your principal
building? Central Hall was a name which was readily identifiable as the
principal building without inferring any other form of 'superiority'
over the rest.
'fellowships' and congregations deliberately use a style of building
similar to a village hall. This picture is of a hall used by a
congregation called 'The church of God' in Kinson, Bournemouth, UK.
A large or grand tomb. Very often a small (or not so small) building,
with the coffin, or coffins inside. Usually in cemeteries or in the
grounds of palaces and very large houses. Not strictly Christian,
although many examples of these in memorium of Christians exist.
The place of worship of a monastery, Minster Church.
Post reformation some Minsters continued as important churches,
for example York Minster, England. Some remain as large parish churches like Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England.
Picture Left: York Minster, England.
Monastery The buildings of a religious community. See Abbey and Priory
(usually) A private chapel or room set aside as a chapel,
often at a priests residence. Principally for prayer but used to say or sing the daily offices and
offer Mass. This picture is of The Oratory of St Michael & All
Angels, Old Catholic Apostolic Church.
Not all oratories are small: the second largest Roman Catholic
church in London is the church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, better
known as the Brompton Oratory
Similar to Abbey (see above) in being a large, grand
originally the seat of worship for a religious community. Abbeys and
Priories often had other associated buildings attached, Chapter houses,
refectories, accommodation etc. Christchurch Priory in Dorset, England is a superb example of a surviving Priory church. Lanercost Priory in Cumbria, England still survives, but was less fortunate. The word 'priory' means 'prayer house' or '...dedicated to prayer'.
Some denominations occasionally find for various
reasons to be without a cathedral. Sometimes, like Coventry whose
cathedral was bombed during the war. A church building which, although
not a cathedral, is being used as one on a temporary basis is a
pro-cathedral. Sometimes due to schism, where there are two entities now and don't, won't or can't share the same cathedral. Perhaps
the most famous example is in Dublin, which has two cathedrals, but
both are Anglican (Church In Ireland). At the reformation the Holy Trinity transferred to the Church of Ireland, who already had St Patricks. The Roman Catholics still regard Holy Trinity as the official cathedral of Ireland, but it has been Anglican for about 500 years! So Dublin has St Mary's Pro-Cathedral as its acting Roman Catholic cathedral.
a small church like the Old Catholic Apostolic Church cannot have a
cathedral and so will use another church building for its ordinations
and synods. For the duration of these, the building being used is a
The term is used as a place of worship from earliest
Bible times (Exodus). In the 1620's a baptist congregation in London
was formed (although banned by parliament). Their building could not be
named 'church' and this name was chosen as fitting. A place where God
could be worshipped, where God 'lived'. Example is the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.
This term usually applies to
places of worship which are not Christian, however there are occasions
when it is used: there are Christian Temples. Many protestant or
non-conformist churches in predominantly Catholic surroundings are
called Temples. There are many examples in France. Sometimes the name
was chosen as a means of ensuring identity, sometimes because the
architecture lended itself to the name. The Temple Church in London is a connection between the world of God and the world of the legal profession and hence the outside world.