Standing Room Only: A Brief History of Pews and Church Seating

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The earliest church structures-contemporary descendants of residences that doubled as synagogues-began sprouting 200 years after the Resurrection of Jesus. On the other hand, the earliest pews only started appearing thirteen centuries after the principles of building church edifices became instituted. Despite the late introduction of church seating, these benches have a fascinating history of their own.

Since the beginning of Abrahamic religions, customary public worship took place in open areas, with worshippers standing and kneeling on the ground. It was during the Protestant Reformation in Europe that parish administrators proposed setting up a loose arrangement of seats for churchgoers and special chairs for religious officials.


Let There be Pews

Note that the term pew during this period refers to “closed” pews-seats reserved for a particular person or group. Free seating did not yet exist; as churches adhered to in its place clearly defined fixed seating assignments.

By this time, churchgoers had begun to assert their “right” to church furniture. Officials granted these so-called rights, albeit with limitations. Although worshippers could occupy seats during liturgical sessions, churchwardens could eject, for whatever reason, any person whose bottom was deemed undeserving of rest. At the same time, an unwritten rule that allowed privileged parishioners to bring chairs for themselves was officially censured. Thus, only the clergy could supply pews to their adherents.

By the onset of the 19th century, the seating rights of churchgoers were modified across the United States once more, this time limiting their privileges to sitting, kneeling, and standing-rights which only be enforced during liturgical service..


A Few Good Pews

It may sounds ridiculous today, but disputes among churchgoers on limited seating space in church pews were not uncommon in olden times. Often, canon law experts in ecclesiastical courts were called in to settle such conflicts. Yes, judges who were well-versed with the essential Scriptural verses settled commoners’ arguments about who got to sit where during worship.

This may have been a major reason that the practice of reserved pews was gradually abolished over the decades; and by the 20th century, most churches in the United States had free-for-everyone pews. Limited accommodation drove demand for more seats until church pews for sale became a scarce commodity. Today, these issues are no longer existent, thanks to hardware stores diversifying their products and niche furniture shops catering to religious organizations.

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Video Title: Church Furniture
Video Owner: ChristiaNetcom


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