"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Monday, August 12, 2002 A reader asks:I have a question that's always intrigued me: the layout of the Anglican churches where the congregation sit face to face (or maybe it's the choir; I'm always confused). Where did this layout come from? Was it widespread throughout the rest of Europe? If not, why not?
Father James Tucker responds:He's describing choir seating, which is set up in that way to facilitate the antiphonal (that is, the alternating of sides) singing of the Psalms at the Canonical Hours. The liturgical choir isn't the people who sing great polyphony, but rather the clerics who sit in the area that we would roughly call the "sanctuary" to sing the Hours or to assist at Mass. Just about any monastery, as well as most seminaries, will have the seating arranged in that way. I imagine that the places [he] is describing have arranged their congregational seating to mimic that of the liturgical choir. Recall that up until about the time of the Reformation, there weren't any seats or pews for the congregation. If you go to Rome today, you'll still find that all the great basilicas have very temporary congregational seating, easy to move around as needed, or to remove altogether to avoid clutter. So, there really isn't a lot of precedent one way or the other for how to seat the people.
Barbara Ryland responds:Most churches are (or used to be) built in the form of a cross (i.e., they are cruciform), and are supposed to face East towards Jerusalem (if you are in Europe, of course). The place where the worshipers sit, and used to stand, is known as the nave. The altar is just past the "crossing" of the transepts (the north-south axis, or "arms" of the cross). The place behind the altar -- or the "head" of the cross -- is known as the choir, at least in English cathedral churches. According to a site that I found, the choir did have chairs, especially after the reformation, where non-hoi polloi worshipers could sit and attend the services, while ordinary folk stood in the nave like they always had. Pews are a modern invention. It has been more than 10 years since I visited a service at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, but I believe it is laid out thus. Traditional Episcopalian/Anglican churches in America were built in the shape of a cross and face East. There are some lovely examples in Eastern Virginia (maybe even the Old Falls Church -- but this has been added on so much you don't really see it as a cross).