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Saturday, 12 April 2014



The Greek word “Ekklesia” translated “church” in the New Testament refers to either a local congregation or believers or universal body of Christ. In the New Testament the Greek word Ekklesia is used 111 times. It comes from two Greek words Ex (out of) and Xahew (I call).

The oldest surviving Christian church, a converted house in Qal’at es Salihiye in eastern Syria, dates from 232 AD. Its frescoes, which show scenes of healing and marriage, and 12,000 artifacts of daily life were removed in the Thirties by Yale archaeologists and taken to the U.S.

The first rural churches emerged in the West in the early fourth century. Up until this time, Christians had only been meeting together in urban centers, but bishops were by then embarking on preaching tours and setting up churches in the bigger villages to serve the new Christians.

The earliest imperial churches in Rome, like the first church of St. Peter's erected by Constantine from 333, were vast barns with wooden roofs supported on lines of columns. They resembled basilicas, which had carried on the Hellenistic style of columnar architecture.

After instruction in Rome, the Englishman Ninian was sent around 400 AD by the pope as an evangelist to the Picts in western Scotland.  Ninian established there a church and monastery, Candida Casa (“White House”) at Whithorn, on the Solway Forth, taking Martin of Tours’ work as an example. It was the first stone church in Britain.

Benedict Biscop (c. 628 – 690), formerly the Abbot of St Peter's in Canterbury  is said to have introduced stone edifices and glass windows to England.

At the beginning of the Second Millennium, Church leaders begin building the churches and cathedrals which would come to characterize European Christianity throughout the Middle Ages. These centers of worship were built facing east in the shape of a cross. In the first century of the Millennium, 1,500 were built in France alone and by the second century there was an average of a church for every 200 people in England.

During medieval times the common people stood up during the church services with a screen in front of them. Whilst the choir and the priest performed the service the people would attempt to watch through the gaps in the screen. Seating was provided for the gentry and there were benches by the walls for the elderly.

During the Middle Ages Romanesque sculptors working on the churches showed a boundless imagination.  In particular the tortures of hell inspired some fantastic scenes. So much so that some of the church authorities complained. Bernard of Clairvaux, for instance, remarked on this subject “What good are all these horrible monkeys, ferocious lions, and imaginary centaurs? We spend more time looking at these strange creatures than thinking about ‘God’s law."

The first Protestant church services in North America were conducted by Francis Drake in 1579 for his men while docked in San Francisco Bay during his historic journey round the world in the Golden Hind.

A law was introduced in 1587 issued by Elizabeth I of England that introduced fines of 1 shilling per Sunday for anyone who refused to attend a Church of England service.

The governor of Virginia decreed in 1618 that everyone missing church would be jailed “lying neck and heels in the corps of Gard the night following and be a slave the week following.”

The 1662 Act of Uniformity passed after the Restoration made the meetings of the Protestant sects (such as Baptists) illegal in England and also made non-attendance at the parish church a crime.

Queen Anne of England commissioned in 1711 the building of 50 new churches in London. They were funded by a tax on coal.

Kizhi island on Lake Onega in Russia features a 22-domed, 37 meter tall wooden church built in 1714 with no nails.

Verklärungskirche (links), Glockenturm (Mitte), Kirche Maria Schutz und Fürbitte (rechts) Wikipedia

A coal miner in 1730s England would rise at 3.30 am for breakfast then work in the mine shifts with poor ventilation all day before creeping into bed at nightfall to begin again the next day. On Sunday he was too dirty and to poor to find comfort in the middle class church and if he should turn up he was likely to sent away by an Anglican church officer.

The first Bryan Baptist Church in Savannah lays claim to being the oldest African-American church in the United States. It was established in 1788, and services are still held.

The Brompton Oratory is a massive baroque Roman Catholic church, built 1878–84 to the design of Herbert Gribble (1847–94). It immediately played an important role in the re-establishment of Roman Catholicism, as London's largest and main place of worship until the opening of Westminster Cathedral in 1903.

Ulm Minster was begun in the Gothic era and not completed until the late 19th century. It is the tallest church in the world and the fourth tallest structure built before the 20th century, with a steeple measuring 161.5 feet.

The Chicago Temple Building is 568 foot tall skyscraper church located at 77 W. Washington St. in Chicago. It is home to the congregation of the First United Methodist Church of Chicago. It was completed in 1924 and has 23 floors dedicated to religious and office use. It is the tallest church building in the world, although Ulm Minster is the tallest church in the world.

By the mid 1930s in the western world the cinema was the most popular form of entertainment. It was one of a number of general diversions offered up as a rival to church. The wireless at home, and the cinema brought a richness of entertainment ordinary people had never found before.

Stimulated by the increasing interest in evangelization from the beginning of the century church attendance in the United States increased dramatically.. Back in 1910 it was 40 per cent of the population In 1940 it was 49 per cent of the population. Ten years later it was 55 per cent and by 1960 it had risen to 69 per cent, probably the highest in the country’s history. Many new churches were being built and old ones enlarged to hold expanding congregations. In 1960 over $1 billion was spent on church building.

In the 1980s parishioners at Beeston Regis in Norfolk started making plans for the year 2192. Calculating that the sea  would menace their parish church about that time, they asked the church council to open a fund, which would enable it to be removed further inland.

Between 1991 and 2004, the number of American adults who do not attend church almost doubled, rising 92% from 39 million to 75 million. The people falling away tended to be men, young people, singles and urban people.


The Aqaba Church is an historic 3rd-century church located in Aqaba, Jordan. It is listed by the Guinness World Records as the world's oldest-known purpose-built Christian church. The church's peripheral location within the Roman Empire is likely to have saved it from destruction during the Great Persecution that broke out just a few years after its construction.

Ruins of early church of Aqaba; rear, a byzantine era city wall

The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in The Ivory Coast city of Yamoussoukro is the largest church building in the world covering 323,000 sq ft. It is taller than and has double the floor area of St Peter’s, Rome, the previous largest. It was consecrated on September 10, 1990 by Pope John Paul I. It can hold about 18,000 worshipers, though is very rarely full.

Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro. By Felix Krohn - Wikipedia 

The world’s tallest church building is the 161m (528ft) Ulm Minster in Germany. The spire height was increased near completion in 1890 to beat the tallest Catholic building in the world, the Cologne Cathedral.

The smallest church in England, Culbone Church, Devon is 12 feet wide and was built near a leper colony. The lepers would follow the services through a window.


There is a Wesleyan chapel at Porthleven, which was said of:
They built the church, upon my Word
As fine as any abbey
And then they thought to cheat the Lord
And built the back part shabby.

A poster outside a Salvation Army building in Stockport read "Jesus the carpenter needs joiners- apply here any Sunday."

50,000 people can be seated in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

The rhyme "Oranges and lemons are the bells of St Clements" refers to the Church of St Clement Danes, in the Strand, London, the official church of the Royal Air Force.

More people go to church on Sunday in China, than the whole of Europe.

A church in Taiwan opened in February 2016 in the shape of a high-heeled shoe. It is made from 320 sheets of blue glass and its stated aim is to attract more female worshipers.

Jamaica has the most churches per square mile of any country in the world.

Sources Chronicle of the World, Christianity Today, AA Illustrated Guide to Britain, Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia © 1998 The Learning Company, Inc.

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