Pulpit

Last updated
The pulpit of the Notre-Dame de Revel in Revel, Haute-Garonne, France Eglise Notre-Dame de Revel - Interior - Pulpit.jpg
The pulpit of the Notre-Dame de Revel in Revel, Haute-Garonne, France
Pulpit at Blenduk Church in Semarang, Indonesia, with large sounding board and cloth antependium Pulpit of Blenduk Church, Semarang, 2014-06-23.jpg
Pulpit at Blenduk Church in Semarang, Indonesia, with large sounding board and cloth antependium
"Two-decker" pulpit in an abandoned Welsh chapel, with reading desk below Bryn Salem, interior - geograph.org.uk - 889309.jpg
"Two-decker" pulpit in an abandoned Welsh chapel, with reading desk below
1870 Gothic Revival oak pulpit, Church of St Thomas, Thurstonland St Thomas Thurstonland interior 050.jpg
1870 Gothic Revival oak pulpit, Church of St Thomas, Thurstonland
Ambo, in the modern Catholic sense, in Austria Pfarrkirche hl. Johannes der Taufer, Ried im Zillertal 07.jpg
Ambo, in the modern Catholic sense, in Austria
19th century wooden pulpit in Canterbury Cathedral Canterbury Cathedral pulpit.jpg
19th century wooden pulpit in Canterbury Cathedral

A pulpit is a raised stand for preachers in a Christian church. The origin of the word is the Latin pulpitum (platform or staging). [1] The traditional pulpit is raised well above the surrounding floor for audibility and visibility, accessed by steps, with sides coming to about waist height. From the late medieval period onwards, pulpits have often had a canopy known as the sounding board, tester or abat-voix above and sometimes also behind the speaker, normally in wood. [2] Though sometimes highly decorated, this is not purely decorative, but can have a useful acoustic effect in projecting the preacher's voice to the congregation below. Most pulpits have one or more book-stands for the preacher to rest his or her bible, notes or texts upon.

Contents

The pulpit is generally reserved for clergy. This is mandated in the regulations of the Catholic Church, and several others (though not always strictly observed). Even in Welsh Nonconformism, this was felt appropriate, and in some chapels a second pulpit was built opposite the main one for lay exhortations, testimonials and other speeches. [3] Many churches have a second, smaller stand called the lectern, which can be used by lay persons, and is often used for all the readings and ordinary announcements. The traditional Catholic location of the pulpit to the side of the chancel or nave has been generally retained by Anglicans and some Protestant denominations, while in Presbyterian and Evangelical churches the pulpit has often replaced the altar at the centre.

Equivalent platforms for speakers are the bema (bima, bimah) of ancient Greece and Jewish synagogues, and the minbar of Islamic mosques. From the pulpit is often used synecdochically for something which is said with official church authority.

Location of pulpit and lectern

In many Reformed and Evangelical Protestant denominations, the pulpit is at the centre of the front of the church, while in the Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican traditions the pulpit is placed to one side and the altar or communion table is in the centre. In many Christian churches, there are two speakers' stands at the front of the church. Often, the one on the left (as viewed by the congregation) is called the pulpit. Since the Gospel lesson is often read from the pulpit, the pulpit side of the church is sometimes called the gospel side.

In both Catholic and Protestant churches the pulpit may be located closer to the main congregation in the nave, either on the nave side of the crossing, or at the side of the nave some way down. This is especially the case in large churches, to ensure the preacher can be heard by all the congregation. Fixed seating for the congregation came relatively late in the history of church architecture, so the preacher being behind some of the congregation was less of an issue than later. Fixed seating facing forward in the nave and modern electric amplification has tended to reduce the use of pulpits in the middle of the nave. Outdoor pulpits, usually attached to the exterior of the church, or at a preaching cross, are also found in several denominations. [3] If attached to the outside wall of a church, these may be entered from a doorway in the wall, or by steps outside.

The other speaker's stand, usually on the right (as viewed by the congregation), is known as the lectern. The word lectern comes from the Latin word "lectus" past participle of legere, meaning "to read", because the lectern primarily functions as a reading stand. It is typically used by lay people to read the scripture lessons (except for the Gospel lesson), to lead the congregation in prayer, and to make announcements. Because the epistle lesson is usually read from the lectern, the lectern side of the church is sometimes called the epistle side. In other churches, the lectern, from which the Epistle is read, is located to the congregation's left and the pulpit, from which the sermon is delivered, is located on the right (the Gospel being read from either the centre of the chancel or in front of the altar).

Though unusual, movable pulpits with wheels were also found in English churches. They were either wheeled into place for each service where they would be used or, as at the hospital church in Shrewsbury, rotated to different positions in the church quarterly in the year, to allow all parts of the congregation a chance to have the best sound. [4] A portable outside pulpit of wood and canvas was used by John Wesley, and a 19th-century Anglican vicar devised a folding iron pulpit for using outdoors. [4]

Origins

The Ancient Greek bema (βῆμα) means both 'platform' and 'step', and was used for a variety of secular raised speaking platforms in ancient Greece and Rome, and from those times to today for the central raised platform in Jewish synagogues. Modern synagogue bimahs are often similar in form to centrally-placed pulpits in Evangelical churches.

The use of a bema carried over from Judaism into early Christian church architecture. It was originally a raised platform, often large, with a lectern and seats for the clergy, from which lessons from the Scriptures were read and the sermon was delivered. In Western Christianity the bema developed over time into the sanctuary and chancel (or presbytery).

The next development was the ambo, from a Greek word meaning an elevation. This was originally a raised platform from which the Epistle and Gospel would be read, and was an option to be used as a preacher's platform for homilies, though there were others. Saint John Chrysostom (died 407) is recorded as preaching from the ambo, but this was probably uncommon at this date. In cathedrals early bishops seem often to have preached from their chair in the apse, echoing the position of magistrates in the secular basilicas whose general form most large early churches adopted. Often there were two ambos, one to each side, one used more as a platform on which the choir sang; sometimes the gospel was read, chanted or sung from one side and the epistle from the other. The location of the ambo within the church varied, with about the same range of places as modern pulpits. In ancient Syrian churches it was often placed in the centre of the nave (on both axes). Gradually the ambo came to resemble the modern pulpit in both form and function, though early examples in large churches are often large enough to accommodate several people. [5] The steps up to the pulpit almost invariably approach it from the side or behind, and are often curved. The typical design of the Islamic minbar, where a straight flight of steps leads to the front of the pulpit, is very different.

The Ambon of Henry II, an Imperial gift of 1014 to Aachen Cathedral, was originally installed centrally, but later moved to the side. It is richly decorated with sheets of gold, ivory, and gems, probably emulating Justinian's lost pulpit of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, of which a description by Paul the Silentiary survives. [6] In churches where there is only one speaker's stand at the front of the church, it serves the functions of both lectern and pulpit and may be called the ambo, which is still the official Catholic term for the place the gospel is read from.

Catholicism

The carved wooden pulpit of the Basilica of Saint Clotilde in Paris, France Basilica of Saint Clotilde Pulpit, Paris, France - Diliff.jpg
The carved wooden pulpit of the Basilica of Saint Clotilde in Paris, France

Preaching had always been important in Catholicism, but received a particular revival in the late Middle Ages with the two preaching orders of friars, the Franciscans and Dominicans, the former tending to an emotional and populist style and the latter more intellectual. Some preaching was done outdoors by touring preachers, but the orders, especially in Italy, soon began constructing large churches designed to hold congregations who came to hear star preachers. These featured large raised pulpits, typically some way down the nave, and sometimes in pairs on either side of the nave. These were both used for various purposes, whether different readings in services, accommodating singers or musicians at times, or for disputations between two speakers across the nave. Accordingly, they often have a larger platform area than later pulpits.The large number of pulpits, especially ornately carved wooden pulpits of Kerala churches, especially thr Syrian churches of india, and some of the Goan churches, aught to be better known. One might search "pulpits Kerala," particularly "pulpit Ollur", the last being perhaps the tallest and largest relief sculptured wooden pulpit in India and the world. [7]

In Western Catholic Churches, the stand used for readings and homilies is formally called the ambo. Despite its name, this structure usually more closely resembles a lectern than the ambon of the Eastern Catholic Churches. The readings are typically read from an ambo in the sanctuary, and depending on the arrangement of the church, the homily may be delivered from a raised pulpit where there is one. [8] The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) specifies:

309. The dignity of the word of God requires that in the church there be a suitable place from which it may be proclaimed and toward which the attention of the faithful naturally turns during the Liturgy of the Word. It is appropriate that generally this place be a stationary ambo and not simply a movable lectern. The ambo must be located in keeping with the design of each church in such a way that the ordained ministers and readers may be clearly seen and heard by the faithful. From the ambo only the readings, the Responsorial Psalm, and the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) are to be proclaimed; likewise it may be used for giving the Homily and for announcing the intentions of the Universal Prayer. The dignity of the ambo requires that only a minister of the word should stand at it. ... [9]

Protestantism

Martin Luther's pulpit c.1525, Lutherhaus, Wittenberg, one of the first pulpits Martin Luther's pulpit c.1525, Lutherhaus, Wittenberg.jpg
Martin Luther's pulpit c.1525, Lutherhaus, Wittenberg, one of the first pulpits
Centrally-placed three-decker pulpit at Gibside Chapel, England, a private chapel on the Calvinist edge of Anglicanism. Gibside Chapel interior 2018 - pulpit.jpg
Centrally-placed three-decker pulpit at Gibside Chapel, England, a private chapel on the Calvinist edge of Anglicanism.

It is central to Protestant belief that the clergy speak directly to the congregation, rather than facing an altar and speaking to God. To achieve this, some existing churches were adapted to place the clergyman in a position audible to all, which in larger churches usually places this in a more central location, and raised up. This had long been the practice in larger Catholic churches and many smaller ones, but was now made universal. In smaller churches the pulpit remained in the traditional east end of the church, where altars were usually located, but was often raised higher than before.

In some Protestant churches, the pulpit is considered the most important piece of furniture in the church. It is located centrally in relation to the congregation and raised. In such churches it may be where the minister stands for most of the service. In the eighteenth century, double-decker and triple-decker pulpits were often introduced in English-speaking countries. The three levels of lecterns were intended to show the relative importance of the readings delivered there. The bottom tier was for the parish clerk, the middle was the reading desk for the minister, and the top tier was reserved for the delivery of the sermon. A good example of a three-decker pulpit is found in St Andrew's Church, Slaidburn, Lancashire. America's only surviving three-decker pulpit on the centerline of the church is at Trinity Church, Newport, Rhode Island.

In many Evangelical Christian churches, the pulpit stands squarely in the centre of the platform, and is generally the largest piece of church furniture. This is to symbolise the proclamation of the Word of God as the central focus of the weekly service of worship. In more contemporary evangelical churches, the pulpit may be much smaller, if used at all, and may be carried out after the end of the song service. Often placed in the centre of the platform as well, the item of furniture may be used by both lay and ordained members, in effect doubling as a lectern.

Presbyterian Protestant churches

Traditional Presbyterian Churches in Scotland and elsewhere often had a central pulpit, that is, the pulpit was located in the centre of the chancel in the position where most churches have the communion table or altar. The table could be situated in front of the pulpit or to the side, and sometimes was not in the chancel area at all.

This declares the Bible to be the foundation of the faith. Furthermore, the "Centrality of the Word" implies that the reading and preaching of the Bible is the centrepiece of a service of worship, and thus takes priority over the sacraments. The central pulpit is intended to give visual representation of this idea. [10] [11]

Since the late 19th century, the fashion in the Church of Scotland and most other Presbyterian denominations has been for a return to the pre-Reformation layout. Thus many buildings which once had a central pulpit now have a pulpit to the side. See for example Skene Parish Church or Old West Church, Boston, Massachusetts.

This Presbyterian tradition is historically distinct from the tradition of the ambon in Eastern Christianity.

Eastern Christianity

In modern Eastern Christianity the area directly in front of the Beautiful Gates of the iconostasis from which the Gospel is typically read is called the ambon, and the entire low elevation above the level of the nave in front of the iconostasis is called the soleas. In larger churches, the ambo might be distinguished by three curved steps by which one may reach it from the nave. [12] In addition many Orthodox churches, especially Greek-speaking churches, have pulpits for preaching from, which are similar to those in Western Christianity.

In Eastern Orthodox Church cathedrals there is usually a low platform in the center of the nave called the episcopal ambo where the bishop is vested prior to the Divine Liturgy and where he is enthroned until the Little Entrance. If the bishop is serving in a simple parish church, an episcopal ambo is set temporarily in place.There are huge intricately carved wooden pulpits, some of the biggest in India and the world, in the Syrian churches of Kerala, India [13]

In addition to the ambo, many major churches in Greece and Cyprus also have a raised pulpit on the left side of the nave, usually attached to a column and raised several feet high. This is reached by a narrow flight of stairs. It is considered an architectural element that is symmetrical to the bishop's throne, which is located in an equivalent position on the right. Pulpit and throne are usually similar in construction, usually made of either sculpted stone or sculpted wood. This pulpit was used mostly for sermons and in order to improve audibility, before the advent of modern public address systems in churches. Nowadays it is used rarely. Tradition dictates that it be used for the reading of the "12 Passion Gospels" during the Matins of Holy Friday, served late in the evening of Maundy Thursday. This is done to signify that the Passion of Christ is being "broadcast" for all to know. In the same spirit, a phonetic transcription of the relevant Gospel passages is provided in several common languages (e.g. English, French, Russian, Arabic etc.), so that they may be read from this pulpit at the same time.

Decoration

Siena Cathedral Pulpit, by Nicola Pisano, 1268 Siena.Duomo.pulpit02a.jpg
Siena Cathedral Pulpit, by Nicola Pisano, 1268

The exterior of a wood or stone pulpit may be decorated, especially with carved reliefs, and in the centuries after the Protestant Reformation these were sometimes, especially in Lutheran churches, one of the few areas of the church left with figurative decoration such as scenes from the Life of Christ. Pulpit reliefs were especially important at the start of the Italian Renaissance, including those from the Pisa Baptistry (1260) and Siena Cathedral Pulpit (1265–68) by Nicola Pisano, the Pulpit of Sant' Andrea, Pistoia by Giovanni Pisano (1301), and those by Donatello

Elements of decoration shared between Catholic and Protestant denominations are the flowers that may be placed in front of the pulpit, and the antependium or "pulpit fall", a piece of cloth that covers the top of the book-stand in the pulpit and hangs down a short way at the front. It is often of a rich material and decorated with Christian symbols. Flags and banners used by church-related organizations may also stand on the floor around the pulpit.

In the Reformed tradition, though avoiding figurative art, pulpits were increasingly important as a focus for the church, with the sanctuary now comparatively bare and de-emphasized, and were often larger and more elaborately decorated than in medieval churches. [14]

The bookstand of the pulpit (usually in medieval churches) or lectern (common in Anglican churches) may be formed in the shape of an eagle. The eagle symbolizes the gospels, and shows where these were read from at the time the eagle was placed there. When pulpits like those by the Pisani with eagles in stone on them were built the gospel reading was done from the pulpit.

The spread of the sounding board offered artists decorating Catholic Baroque churches a space for spectacular features of various types on top of it. An artistic conceit largely confined to the 18th century Rococo churches of South Germany was to shape the body of the pulpit as a ship, to utilize the old metaphor of the church as a ship. This allowed for fantastical plaster or wood decoration of sails and rigging manned by angels above, and apostles hauling in nets below.

Outdoor pulpits

Modern pulpits

Older pulpits

Notes

  1. "Pulpit". Merriam-Wester Online Dictionary. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  2. Illustrated Dictionary of British Churches
  3. 1 2 Francis, 19
  4. 1 2 Francis, 18
  5. Mountford, 34–36; Ryan, 50–51;
  6. Milson, 193
  7. The many photographs in The Indian Church History Classics, Vol. I, The Nazranies, Ed. George Menachery, 1998&c.
  8. Ryan, 51–52
  9. "Chapter V: The Arrangement and Ornamentation of Churches for the Celebration of the Eucharist". General Instruction of the Roman Missal. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 2011.
  10. "Where's the Pulpit go?" . Retrieved 10 March 2010.
  11. Ronald L. Dart. "The performance church" . Retrieved 19 June 2015.
  12. Catholic Encyclopædia: Ambo (in the Russian and Greek Church)
  13. Details with many photographs in the St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India, esp. Vol.2, 1973 Ed. George Menachery and in the Indian Church History Classics, Vol.1, 1998, Ed. George Menachery
  14. Mountford, 36

Related Research Articles

Architecture of cathedrals and great churches

The architecture of cathedrals and great churches is characterised by the buildings' large scale and follows one of several branching traditions of form, function and style that derive ultimately from the Early Christian architectural traditions established in Late Antiquity during the Christianization of the Roman Empire.

Iconostasis

In Eastern Christianity, an iconostasis is a wall of icons and religious paintings, separating the nave from the sanctuary in a church. Iconostasis also refers to a portable icon stand that can be placed anywhere within a church. The iconostasis evolved from the Byzantine templon, a process complete by the 15th century.

Gospel Book

A Gospel Book, Evangelion, or Book of the Gospels is a codex or bound volume containing one or more of the four Gospels of the Christian New Testament – normally all four – centering on the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the roots of the Christian faith. The term is also used for a liturgical book, also called the Evangeliary, from which are read the portions of the Gospels used in the Mass and other services, arranged according to the order of the liturgical calendar.

Catholic Apostolic Church

The Catholic Apostolic Church, also known as the Irvingian Church, is a Christian religious tradition which originated in Scotland around 1831 and later spread to Germany and the United States. The tradition to which the Catholic Apostolic Church belongs is referred to as Irvingism or the Irvingian movement, in honour of Edward Irving (1792-1834), who taught that "God could work miracles in His Church as easily now as two thousand years ago." The church was organised in 1835 with the fourfold ministry of "apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors."

Holy Name Cathedral (Chicago) Seat of the Archdiocese of Chicago in Illinois, US

Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois is the seat of the Archdiocese of Chicago, one of the largest Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States. The current Archbishop of Chicago is Cardinal Blase J. Cupich. Holy Name Cathedral replaced the Cathedral of Saint Mary and the Church of the Holy Name, which were destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and was dedicated on November 21, 1875. A cornerstone inscription still bears faint indications of bullet marks from the murder of North Side Gang member Hymie Weiss, who was killed in front of the church on October 11, 1926.

Chancel Space around the altar, including the choir and the sanctuary, of a traditional Christian church building

In church architecture, the chancel is the space around the altar, including the choir and the sanctuary, at the liturgical east end of a traditional Christian church building. It may terminate in an apse.

<i>Cathedra</i> Bishops throne in a cathedral

A cathedra is the raised throne of a bishop in the early Christian basilica. When used with this meaning, it may also be called the bishop's throne. With time, the related term cathedral became synonymous with the "seat", or principal church, of a bishopric.

Rood screen Partition found in medieval church architecture

The rood screen is a common feature in late medieval church architecture. It is typically an ornate partition between the chancel and nave, of more or less open tracery constructed of wood, stone, or wrought iron. The rood screen would originally have been surmounted by a rood loft carrying the Great Rood, a sculptural representation of the Crucifixion. In English, Scottish, and Welsh cathedrals, monastic, and collegiate churches, there were commonly two transverse screens, with a rood screen or rood beam located one bay west of the pulpitum screen, but this double arrangement nowhere survives complete, and accordingly the preserved pulpitum in such churches is sometimes referred to as a rood screen. At Wells Cathedral the medieval arrangement was restored in the 20th century, with the medieval strainer arch supporting a rood, placed in front of the pulpitum and organ.

Lectern

A lectern is a reading desk, with a slanted top, usually placed on a stand or affixed to some other form of support, on which documents or books are placed as support for reading aloud, as in a scripture reading, lecture, or sermon. To facilitate eye contact and improve posture when facing an audience, lecterns may have adjustable height and slant. People generally use lecterns while standing.

Portsmouth Cathedral Church in Hampshire, United Kingdom

The Cathedral Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, commonly known as Portsmouth Cathedral, is an Anglican cathedral church in the centre of Old Portsmouth in Portsmouth, England. It is the cathedral of the Diocese of Portsmouth and the seat of the bishop of Portsmouth.

A bema was an elevated platform used as an orator's podium in ancient Athens. The term can refer to the raised area in a sanctuary. In Jewish synagogues the term used is bimah ; it is for Torah reading during services. Pre-Reform Judaism, all synagogues had their bimah in the middle. The Reform movement moved theirs close to or around the aron kodesh. In antiquity it was made of stone, but in modern times it is usually a rectangular wooden platform approached by steps.

Church architecture Branch of architecture focused on church buildings

Church architecture refers to the architecture of buildings of Christian churches. It has evolved over the two thousand years of the Christian religion, partly by innovation and partly by imitating other architectural styles as well as responding to changing beliefs, practices and local traditions. From the birth of Christianity to the present, the most significant objects of transformation for Christian architecture and design were the great churches of Byzantium, the Romanesque abbey churches, Gothic cathedrals and Renaissance basilicas with its emphasis on harmony. These large, often ornate and architecturally prestigious buildings were dominant features of the towns and countryside in which they stood. However, far more numerous were the parish churches in Christendom, the focus of Christian devotion in every town and village. While a few are counted as sublime works of architecture to equal the great cathedrals and churches, the majority developed along simpler lines, showing great regional diversity and often demonstrating local vernacular technology and decoration.

Choir (architecture) Area of a church or cathedral

A choir, also sometimes called quire, is the area of a church or cathedral that provides seating for the clergy and church choir. It is in the western part of the chancel, between the nave and the sanctuary, which houses the altar and Church tabernacle. In larger medieval churches it contained choir-stalls, seating aligned with the side of the church, so at right-angles to the seating for the congregation in the nave. Smaller medieval churches may not have a choir in the architectural sense at all, and they are often lacking in churches built by all denominations after the Protestant Reformation, though the Gothic Revival revived them as a distinct feature.

Gospel (liturgy) Reading from the Gospels used during various religious services

The Gospel in Christian liturgy refers to a reading from the Gospels used during various religious services, including Mass or Divine Liturgy (Eucharist). In many Christian churches, all present stand when a passage from one of the Gospels is read publicly, and sit when a passage from a different part of the Bible is read. The reading of the Gospels, often contained in a liturgical edition containing only the four Gospels, is traditionally done by a minister, priest or deacon, and in many traditions the Gospel Book is brought into the midst of the congregation to be read.

Ambon (liturgy)

The ambon or ambo is a projection coming out from the soleas in an Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic church. The ambon stands directly in front of the Holy Doors. It may be either rounded or square and has one, two, or three steps leading up to it.

Analogion

An analogion is a lectern or slanted stand on which icons or the Gospel Book are placed for veneration by the faithful in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches. It may also be used as a lectern to read from liturgical books during the divine services.

The Church of the Incarnation is a parish of the Diocese of Dallas of the Episcopal Church, located at 3966 McKinney Avenue in Dallas, Texas.

Soleas

The soleas is an extension of the sanctuary platform in an Eastern Orthodox temple. The soleas projects beyond the iconostasis, forming a narrow walkway running the full length of the iconostasis.

Holy Trinity Church, Dorchester

Holy Trinity Church is a Roman Catholic and former Church of England church in Dorchester, Dorset, England. Built in 1875–76 to the designs of Benjamin Ferrey, it was declared redundant by the Church of England in 1975 and reopened the following year as a Roman Catholic church. It has been a Grade II listed building since 1975.

Responsorial psalmody primarily refers to the placement and use of the Psalm within the readings at a Christian service of the Eucharist. The Psalm chosen in such a context is often called the responsorial psalm. Although often associated with the Roman Catholic church, it is used more widely, including in Anglican, Episcopalian and Lutheran traditions.

References