Throughout Christianity, Church Altars Have Been a Centerpiece

Throughout Christianity, Church Altars Have Been a Centerpiece
by Cadell Derbing

Christian churches around the world have a few standard interior design elements that are found pretty much everywhere. These same religious symbols are found universally, regardless of host country or the age of the church.

Stained Glass Windows

Throughout the history of the church, societies have devoted their resources to the decoration of their church buildings. One example is the use of beautiful and valuable stained glass windows. At one time, these windows would be stolen right out of the church buildings because of their great value. While this no longer occurs with great frequency, stained glass windows are still an important element of church design and represent a significant investment on the part of the congregation.


Another standard element of church interior design is the use of pews instead of individual chairs. Most pews in Catholic churches have a kneeling bench in front of them, and almost all pews have a rack on the back to hold hymnals and prayer books. The communal seating represented by long pews that can hold an entire family has long been a part of the church environment.

Stations of the Cross

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Artwork depicting the stations of the cross is prominently displayed in many churches. This artwork can be in the form of designs in the stained glass windows or separate paintings, tiles, or carvings hung on or inset into the walls. The art depicts the story of the events of Good Friday, when Jesus carried his cross to the place of crucifixion and everything that happened along the way.

There are fourteen different images that make up the Stations of the Cross, each depicting a different story from the Bible of what happened on that day. Since they are each a part of a narrative, they are always shown in the same order. For example the first one is always the trial at which Jesus was turned over to be crucified to death.

The Altar

The central design element in most churches is an altar, with a tabernacle situated on or behind it. The altar is a sacred table made of wood or marble, and the tabernacle is a container for the holy bread and wine that is used in communion. Tabernacles can be very ornate, and altars as well can have ornate carving decorating them. This is in keeping with the tradition of devoting great resources to the interior design of the church in accordance with its great significance in the lives of most people throughout the millennia. However, some congregations could only afford a simple wooden alter and plain box for a tabernacle, and in modern times, simplicity might be chosen over elaborate decoration to reinforce the principle of humbleness and living a simple life. Whether the altar and tabernacle are highly decorated, covered with draperies, or simple, their importance as the centerpiece of church interior design cannot be underestimated.

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