Surely anyone who tried would find it rather difficult to picture a church without pews. Yet it turns out that prior to the Protestant Reformation, most churches did not even have seating. Imagine you and your family having to stand for hours at a time at each and every church session! These iconic pieces of furniture have a long history dating back to the 13th century and have undergone numerous changes in that time.
Initially, church pews were simple stone benches that could be found only in the edges of the nave, up against the wall. Gradually, churches took up the practice of placing moveable benches in the center of the room. By the fifteenth century, wooden benches were the norm, and they were attached permanently to the floor as in the churches of today.
While contemporary church pews are a universally accessible arrangement symbolic of the egalitarian nature of the faith, this was not always the case. There was a period during which box pews, common at a time in England and young America, could be purchased and owned as property by wealthy families. These enclosed spaces functioned as symbols of a family’s affluence and status.
Of course, this practice has since become obsolete. The rental of pews came under attack in the Church of England in the mid-19th century. Overcrowding was already a serious problem in English churches, and box pews were a much less efficient use of space than the rows to which we are accustomed today. Furthermore, they violated the conception of churches as places open to all who wish to worship. In fact, some churches in the 1800s needed only 20% of their seating to be available for free. Fortunately, a series of reforms did away with this exclusionary practice.
Of course, rows of new or antique church pews made of wood are now a permanent fixture throughout the world. These seats, especially antique pews, can have a huge impact on the atmosphere of a church. If you are trying to find used church pews or antique church pews for sale, look no further than Kivett’s Fine Church Furniture.