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The Structure of Churches
This article will give a basic outline of the messages implicit in churches.
Church as Cross
The most obvious symbol of church architecture is that it is shaped as a cross. But it is not a square cross. One part is longer than the other. The shorter part is the holy part, the longer part is where the congregation sits.
This resembles the human body. The arms are just underneath the head. Similarly, the the head part, which is our thinking capability and our mind, represents the holy part. The body is the church (the congregation), the head represents Christ.
And He is the head of the body, the church. (Colossians 1:18)
Not only that, but most western churches are a bit bent at the top. Domes represent heaven, or the heavenly. This rounding reminds us of the shape of a dome, the top of our head.
Pre Vatican 2, churches pointed eastwards, towards the Second Coming of Christ. This ensures that the congregation always looks east, called Ad Orientem. Not coincidentally is this the place where the sun rises.
The people enter the church by the west, the most furthest from the tabernacle.
Church as Boat
The Church can also be seen representing a boat. An ark, taking the Church militant across the Flood.
Mark’s gospel references a boat, representing safety from the storm and common direction. The long shape of a church represents a ship.
Similarly to a ship’s ribs (the skeletal structure of the ship), is similar to a vault. Similarly, the pillars can be seen as the support walls.
Jesus also calms the storm, while they were in the boat. (Mark 4:35-41)
The first way this is represented in the church is by the name of the nave. Nave (or navis) means boat in latin.
Again the symbol of the crossing of water (the Jordan river, as I mentioned in the article on the Wall of Jericho). The crossing of these waters safely, is the symbolism of Baptism.
The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of Baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness. (CCC 1219)
The flying buttresses of churches look very similar to oars. I don’t know whether this is the intention, but once you see it, you cannot unsee it.
Behind the structure of churches has been put a lot of thought. Let’s restore this.