Medieval churches were elaborate and prominent architectural structures that served as the focal point of Christian devotion in every town and hamlet. Originally, these structures were adapted from others with distinct functions. For example, ancient temples or mosques were often converted into churches by adding a new roof structure and enlarging existing windows.
Churches during the Middle Ages were built with thick walls for protection against invasion and natural disasters. They also used heavy stone arches and beams to support the weight of the roof. Ceilings were low to allow for ample space between objects on the ground so that priests could perform religious rites unobstructed by clutter. Windows were usually small and placed high up on the wall for security and to let in light.
People started building larger churches beginning in the 11th century. Architects developed more complex designs that included a nave (the main body of the church where the priest preached sermons) and a choir (a separate area for prayers). The chancel (where the altar was located) was another important part of the church design. It had sloping floors and walls for easy cleaning of blood and other material that might otherwise be seen on the floor of the main body of the church.
By the 13th century, architects began to incorporate stained glass windows into their buildings as a way to display holy texts and provide light for daily offices.
Church buildings influenced secular ones, which frequently imitated religious architecture, initially from those originally intended for other purposes, but with the rise of distinctively ecclesiastical architecture, church buildings came to influence secular ones, which frequently imitated religious architecture. Although medieval churches were often rather simple structures, with only the most basic architectural features, later churches contained many embellishments that reflected the wealth and sophistication of their builders.
In England, France, and the United States, new churches were built following the fashion set by Rome, so they looked like ancient monuments rather than modern buildings. In Italy, Germany, and Poland, on the other hand, new churches were built in the Gothic style, which was adopted by towns and cities when they wanted to show their wealth and power. Thus, church buildings shaped society's view of religion and what it should look like. They also influenced government policy through demands for larges sums of money to be spent on them; for example, Edward II of England is said to have paid for the construction of several large churches with the profits from his games.
During the Industrial Revolution, factory owners used the same architects to design churches as designed offices, hotels, or warehouses. These buildings were usually very plain, with little more than an altar at the front and a roof above that could be painted white, since this was the best way to keep heat and noise out.
The Gothic Cathedrals of the Middle Ages are among the most stunning ecclesiastical monuments that the Christian world has produced. As they physically aspire to reach heaven, their magnificent material beauty is a metaphor of the Christian faith. Their east-west direction represents man's progress toward God. The pointed arches and flying buttresses which support the heavy stone roofs were innovations that enabled builders to create larger churches with greater heights than would have been possible using traditional methods. The wealth and power of the Church was reflected in these buildings who's cost often ran into many millions of dollars. They were used for prayer, worship, and reflection by the priests and people of the time. These magnificent structures are still inhabited today by monks and nuns who follow the Roman Catholic Church.
They are still impressive structures even today in the 21st century. The great cathedrals built during the Gothic period remain unparalleled examples of medieval architecture.
The reason behind building such huge churches back then is because Christians believed that this life is only a bridge toward eternal life in heaven. They wanted to make sure that anyone who died in the service of the church had reached heaven because there was no way to confirm if someone had actually entered heaven yet. If they didn't want people going to hell then it made sense that they would try to send them to heaven as soon as possible after death.
Initially, Christians utilized whatever structures they could find for their worship, adjusting them as best they could to their needs. As they became more organized, churches began to build larger and more elaborate structures. The first known church in the United States was built in 1662 in Boston's Colony of Massachusetts. This church was also the first printed Bible in America.
The second known church in America was built four years later in New York City. Like its predecessor, this church was also constructed with wood, but instead of holding only 100 people, it was capable of housing 1,000. By 1750, there were already large churches being built all over Europe, including France, Germany, and England.
In 1732, the first Baptist church in Pennsylvania was built in Philadelphia. This was also the first Baptist church in the British Empire. A few months later, in April 1732, a group of Baptists met at the home of William Tennent to discuss the need for a church of their own. After much debate, they agreed that a church should be built on land donated by Tennent himself. The cornerstone of this first Baptist church in America was laid on March 18, 1732. It took seven years to complete, and it was dedicated on February 11, 1749.