In ecclesiastical architecture, a crossing is the intersection of the four arms of a cruciform (cross-shaped) church. A tower or dome is occasionally built atop the bridge. In English Gothic churches, a massive crossing tower is very prevalent. The tower often has three levels: an entrance floor for visitors, a gallery for viewing the nave below, and a watchtower where a priest could monitor activity within his parish.
The word "crossing" comes from the Latin crucifixus, meaning "marked with crosses". This refers to the shape of many a medieval church building, including those constructed during the Early Middle Ages or Late Middle Ages. The earliest examples of this type of construction are Christian churches built on the sites of former pagan temples in Roman territories; they typically have only three arches instead of four. As time passed and more wealth became available, more elaborate churches began to be built, with an increasing number of intersecting arms and larger numbers of arches. By the 13th century, most large towns had churches with up to six crossing arms.
During Holy Week, a crossing can also mean a dramatic stage setting used by artists to depict Christ's death and resurrection. It usually includes a wooden structure with cross beams and sometimes a representation of the Crucifixion painted on it. This set-up is then surrounded by actors who re-enact scenes from Jesus' life.
Transept: the area of a cruciform church that is perpendicular to the main axis. The crossing is the bay where the transept crosses the main body of the church. The transept is also referred to simply as the cross. The word comes from Latin trans (across) and secare (to cut). Thus, it means across or through.
The transept usually extends beyond the nave and choir to either side, but not always. It may stop short if there are a number of small rooms off the nave and choir, for example, in a monastic church. Or it may continue all the way to the walls of the church if there's room enough.
In a large cathedral with a transept, there is often an octagonal chapter house attached to one end. This may be where meetings of the cathedral council were held until the late 13th century, when they were moved into the bishop's palace next door. If there is no chapter house, then a series of rooms may have been built instead. These could be used for various purposes by the cathedral clergy and their assistants. There might be a school where children could be taught along with the regular students in the cathedral schools. There might be a library where books could be stored. There might be a kitchen where food could be prepared for the staff and visitors.
The form of a cross is a frequent architectural shape for churches (a long central rectangle, with side rectangles, and a rectangle in front for the altar space or sanctuary). In addition, to depict or call attention to the skies, these churches frequently contain a dome or other vast domed area in the interior.
There are many ways to look at church shapes other than along the lines of cross-shaped windows in a grid pattern, such as circles, squares, and octagons. Some ancient buildings have been found that were probably used primarily as religious sites, including temples and shrines. They often included large areas where people could gather for prayer or meditation. These sites may have had certain shapes that facilitated this purpose.
Churches have also been described by some scholars as "houses of God" because they provide a place for human beings to meet with God.
Finally, some churches have ancillary structures or facilities attached to them, such as chapels or museums. These might be separate buildings or parts of the main structure itself. The ancillary facility might have its own entrance, function, and use apart from the main church site.
In conclusion, churches can be described as a building used for worship that has a shape that facilitates this purpose. There are many other ways to describe churches that don't involve crossing them with a grid line or looking at the sky through a cross-shaped window.
The majority of cathedrals and grand churches have a cruciform floor design. The layout of Western European churches is typically longitudinal, in the shape of the so-called Latin Cross, with a long nave crossed by a transept. These were often built in stages over many years, using local materials including limestone for their floors which were always cruciform in shape.
The design was probably inspired by Christian symbolism. A cross is a widely used symbol in Christianity: it represents the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. The floor plan of a cathedral or church reflects this central role that it plays in Christianity.
Cathedral floors are usually made of marble or other stone, but wood is also used extensively for religious buildings. The choice of material has much to do with religion and culture. For example, marble is used because it is considered holy; it was on a floor of this kind that Our Lord walked after his resurrection. On the other hand, wood is preferred by some Christians because they believe it is a suitable replacement for stone when dealing with issues such as climate change. However, wood does not last as long as stone and needs to be replaced every few decades or centuries depending on how well it is taken care of.
Both marble and wood are used for religious purposes today.
In some Christian churches (particularly the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, Lutherans, and the United Methodist Church), a crucifer or cross-bearer is a person appointed to carry the church's processional cross, a cross or crucifix with a long staff, during processions at the beginning and end of the service. The term is also applied to the individual who carries it.
The role of the crucifer is important in determining how the cross is used in the service. If the cross is held aloft during the procession and then placed on the altar, that is called "adoring the cross." If it is not adored, that is, if it is not raised toward heaven, then it is said to be "borne" before God. Even when it is borne before God, its primary purpose is still to identify the parish community before they enter the worship space; thus it is believed to have a bearing on the sacrificial aspect of the service as well.
The first recorded use of the term "crucifer" was in 1322. Before that time, the carrying of a cross was done by someone called a "monk-ledion". The monk-ledion was a member of the clergy, usually a friar, who wore a white robe and a red cape. He led a group of people in singing hymns as they carried the cross through the town to the cathedral or monastery where the bells would ring out as they passed under an archway.
In certain churches, people "cross" themselves by touching their forehead, breast, and then each shoulder to make a symbolic cross when performing religious ceremonies or thanking themselves or others. Some believe that the sign of the cross is beneficial in warding off bad spirits and protecting believers in general from harm. Others claim that it has no special meaning other than as a gesture of respect.
The practice of touching the cross first arose in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. There are two reasons why this is so. The first is that in some cultures (not only Eastern Orthodox culture), people would normally make an image of a person they were praying for and place it beside them while praying. Since making the sign of the cross with a hand represents taking on human form, this was thought to be inappropriate unless someone was touched first. The second reason is that in Latin-based Christian traditions (such as those found in most of Europe), it is customary to touch one's chest before saying any words of prayer. As we will see later, this too came from ancient customs and not necessarily from Orthodox theology.
Today, in addition to being used in Orthodox churches, people will often touch the cross when entering or leaving Catholic churches. They do this to show respect to the cross and avoid stepping on it while walking across the floorboards.
People also touch the cross when beginning or ending prayers at Jewish services.