Types of Church Building

The 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:

Abbey            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.

    Almost 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.

Cemetery     Usually 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.

Chapel - 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.

Chapel 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.

Chapel - 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.

Church - 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.

Citadel        Some Salvation Army places of worship are called 'Citadels'. This organisation being recognisably different from other churches in clothing, governance, and buildings too.

Convent        The buildings of a religious community of women. Not just the place of worship, but accomodation, kitchens and often school buildings too.

Crematorium         The place where cremations take place. Usually a chapel or two in the centre of a municiple cemetery, with the cremation rooms below.

Crypt            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.

Free Church
    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 not.

Hall    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.

Some '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.

Mausoleum    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.

Minster        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

Oratory of St Michael & All AngelsOratory
        (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 building usually 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'.

Pro-Cathedral        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.
Often 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 pro-cathedral.

Tabernacle        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.

Temple            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.