A steeple is a tall decorative tower, commonly referred to as a belfry, that is generally attached to an ecclesiastical or public edifice. The steeple is often made up of declining floors and capped by a spire, cupola, or pyramid (q. v.), while the name "steeple" refers to the complete construction in common usage.
The term "belfry" comes from the old French word for "bell tower", which is belfriere. The belfry was originally used to raise money by selling off space inside it for shops or apartments. Today, it mostly functions as an advertising device for the church. It is estimated that there are still about 500 operating bells in Europe. Their sound can be heard far beyond the immediate neighborhood of any one church building. The ringing of bells is one of the oldest forms of communication known to man; it can be used for fun, friendship, worship, and alarm. There are many stories about lost items being found through listening to church bells. People believe that because a bell has two ends, it provides a better hearing option for those who wander into churches looking for help.
According to myth, the first steeple was built by Adam over Eden. Since then, they have appeared all over the world, most recently in the United States during the Great Revival of 1816-1856. Before that time, they were not common.
Today's steeples are the products of technological advances over hundreds of years.
A steeple is a tall tower on a structure that is topped by a spire and frequently includes a belfry and other components. Steeples are ubiquitous in Christian churches and cathedrals, and the phrase is often used to refer to a religious construction. They are found in many other religions as well.
The main function of the steeple is to provide a place for priests or ministers of religion to stand while offering prayers or preaching messages from above the crowd. In ancient times there were no microphones or loudspeakers, so these functions had to be fulfilled through other means: by voice alone, not even heard by some who might wish to avoid them, but rather sensed as an elevation above the rest of the congregation. The priest or minister would stand at the top of the stepladder and pray or preach his message all those below.
In modern churches, steeples usually have bells inside them that ring when needed to call people to prayer or other services. They also act as a watchtower, signaling local villagers if enemy soldiers approach.
There are several different styles of church steeples. They can be as simple as a tall pole with a cross section of just one square foot or as complex as a mechanical device used for raising and lowering a bell or other object.
Church steeples were popular in Europe from the 11th century.
Steeples and towers are fundamentally the same thing in church building. They are vertical buildings that soar above any other adjacent building and are erected on the side, front, rear, or top of a church. Originally, these structures were independent towers with a tiny chapel at the bottom known as the baptistry. As time passed, one tower became two connected towers by the addition of a second floor. Or one tower might be slightly larger than its companion to provide extra space for worshipers.
The word "steeple" is used exclusively to describe the upper portion of a tall spire or tower. The term does not apply to the body or trunk of a tree or the like. A steeple usually has four sides, but it can have more or less depending on how high it is. The base of the steeple should be well founded and secure so it will not collapse under its own weight or that of anyone inside it. Sometimes it is made out of stone, but most often it is built out of wood, which is easier to get to and repair if needed.
Towers and steeples were very common in Europe before the advent of the steel beam, especially in England, where they are used extensively in cathedral construction. Some European churches still have their original towers intact today after hundreds of years of use. However, in the United States, towers and steeples were mostly replaced with domes and arches during the Gothic Revival period (1815-1885).
In contemporary English, the term "steeple" originally signified "a lofty tower," one with a height that was much greater than its breadth. Originally, these races were held in open country, with a distant church steeple serving as the finish line. As time went on, the term began to be used for any tall structure, such as windmills and water towers. However, in Britain today, the term is mostly associated with churches that date from after 1150. Before then, they were called "high crosses."
The word "steepled" comes from the same root as "steeple." It's how you would say it in Latin. The image of a priest standing inside a steepled church building, celebrating Mass, is a familiar one to most people.
But the word "steepled" also has other meanings. For example, it can mean "to fold together," like the edges of a book or the pleats of a garment. This is probably why steepling machines are called "pleating machines" now.
And the word "steepled" can also mean "to make crooked," like the lines on a piece of paper when you fold it repeatedly over itself. When you look at a picture of a stained-glass window, for example, you're usually seeing images that have been steopled by the artist.