Answers to some of the questions that school children get in their Religious Education homework.
Question 1: What are the uses and location in a church of the following objects: Font, Pulpit, Altar, Chalice, Paten, Lectern, Banners, Vestments?
The altar in Christian churches is a table on which bread and wine used during communion are consecrated (made holy by prayer.) Other religions before Christianity used altars as a place to sacrifice animals, so altars are a reminder that Christ was sacrificed for us. They symbolise the presence of God in a church and they are usually in the East End of the church, nearest Jerusalem.
Banners are pieces of cloth which have symbols and names on them. Banners can be hung from the roof or from poles which can be carried in parades.
The chalice is a drinking cup, (often made of gold or silver,) and is used to hold the wine during the communion. The priest puts it on the altar and prays to consecrate the wine (make it holy) before giving some to each person who comes and kneels at the altar rail during communion. It is usually kept near the plate (paten,) which holds the communion bread or wafers.
The font is a place for storing holy water, which is used to baptise people, (usually children.) In Saint Mary’s church, Saffron Walden, it stands in the South West corner of the church. People being christened have the holy water sprinkled on their heads. In some churches it is by the main entrance, to symbolise entry into the church body.
The lectern is a reading desk or book stand from which the bible is read in church. Its name comes from the word Legere, which is Latin for to read. Often the book rest where the bible stands is shaped like an eagle, which is the symbol of Saint John, who wrote one of the gospels (books in the bible which tell the story of the life of Christ.)
The pulpit is a raised platform in church from which a sermon (religious lecture) is preached. The word comes from the latin word pulpitum which meant platform or stage. It stands at the front of the nave and is quite high, so people can see the preacher and to show how important the word of God is.
Vestments are the clothes that priests wear during the services. They vary according to who is wearing them and what season it is. During normal times of year the priest wears green robes, during special festivals gold or white (Christmas and Easter) and during times of repentance (Lent and Advent) like the season of Lent, purple.
Question 2: What are the different parts of a church building?
The chancel is the space around the altar, including the choir and the sanctuary at the east end of the church building. It is generally the area used by the clergy and choir during worship, while the congregation is in the nave.
On either side of the chancel (the area behind the rood screen) are chapels: the South chapel and the North chapel. These are places of quiet prayer or may be used to store things during the preparation for the service. In Saint Mary’s there is also a little chapel on the right of the nave which is a chapel of remembrance to help people grieving for people they love who have died. The communion rail in this chapel is shaped like a crocus which is the symbol of Saffron Walden.
The nave is the main long central part of the church which leads up from the big door (the West door,) to the altar: its name comes from the latin word navis which means ship, and the roof looks a bit like the bottom of a ship and was sometimes built by ship builders (Some people say that the Christian church is like a ship of faith which carries its members towards God.) During the service the priests and the people who serve the bread and wine (servers) and the choir walk along the central aisle (the path between the seats,) of the nave in a procession behind the cross.
Hidden behind the rood screen in Saffron Walden is an organ loft, where the organist sits. He can see the choir below through a closed circuit TV.
At one end of the nave is a screen, called the rood screen. This separates the part of the church where the altar rests (the chancel,) from the rest of the church.
The sanctuary is the part of the church behind the altar rail where only the priests and servers go; they stand at the altar, the priest asks God to bless the wine and the bread for communion and then it is served to the people kneeling on the other side of the rail. The sanctuary is the most holy part of the church, and the name comes (through ancient French) from a Latin word, “sanctus,” which means holy. The most holy part of the church is the place where the altar is placed, because the altar is a symbol of God’s presence.
The tower is the tall square part of the church which holds the bells.In Victorian times a new spire (steeple) was added to St Mary’s, Saffron Walden. This was a tall, pointed structure, which was added to the top of the tower so that the church could be seen above the roof tops and from far away.
The vestry is the place where the priests and people who take part in the service prepare for the service, so it holds their special clothes called vestments.
The windows are sometimes made of stained glass and show pictures of bible stories. They were sometimes paid for by the families of people who had died, as a memorial to them. We hope you will be able to visit us and see the church for yourself. This photo is of the west window.
The East window is the big window behind the altar, at the East end of the church. The altar is usually in the East. Usually it is made of stained glass (see Stained glass). It is the most impressive window in a church because it is the one which people face during the service.
Question 3: Why are some churches built in the cruciform shape, and why are more modern churches being built in other shapes for example circles?
“Cruciform” means “in the shape of a cross”. Medieval churches were built primarily for the celebration of communion, which is a reminder of the death of Jesus. This is why the cross is central to the church building. Nowadays church architects also consider that the building will be used for many other activities and services. For some of these, it is an advantage to be able to sit round in a circle.
The church is in the shape of a cross with two small rooms sticking out from the nave at the sides: In Saint Mary’s Saffron Walden the north room is the vestry for the clergy and the one on the south side is an entrance to the church with disabled access. The transept is usually only found in a cathedral (the main church in an area or diocese) . Cathedrals are often shaped like a cross (cruciform) and the parts of the cross that stick out at the side are called the transepts. A crossing is similarly part of this cross shape.
The circle is also an important symbol because it has no beginning or end. This is like the eternity of God. Interestingly, there are also a few medieval churches built in a circular shape. These are called “Round Churches.” There is one in Cambridge. They were built after the Crusades, by knights who had seen the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This is one of the oldest churches in the world and has a central section which is round.