Architecture and Symbols of the
First Presbyterian Church
This church is of modified Gothic style, the principal
features of which are the perpendicular lines and the
pointed arch. The Gothic style was developed early in
the twelfth century and has been popular in Christian
churches ever since. A sense of spaciousness is
created by the height of the building, and the lines
and arches all point upward toward heaven.
The different parts of a church building have special
ecclesiastical names. That part of the church beyond
the front of the congregational seating is called the
Chancel, from the Latin cancellus, meaning
lattice-screen. The area of the chancel in which the
choir members sit is called the Choir. The central
division of the church in which the congregation is
seated is called the Nave, from the Latin navis,
meaning ship, the Church being the Ark of Salvation.
Properly speaking, the Sanctuary, from the Latin
sanctus, meaning holy, is that most sacred portion of
the church in which the Holy Table sits; however, in
prevalent usage, the whole church is called the
Sanctuary. The vestibule or foyer at the entrance of
the church is called the Narthex. The receptacle
which holds the water for baptism is called the
Baptismal Font. The stand on which the Bible rests is
the Lectern. The rich curtain behind the Holy Table is
the Dorsal or Dossal, and the seats for the Minister
behind the Pulpit, Lectern, and the Holy Table are
A church is built to be the meeting place of the family
of God, assembled to offer Him the worship that is
His due. Thus, the focal point is the Holy Table, the
Table of Fellowship, the earthly counterpart of the
heavenly Mercy-Seat. The Holy Table is pulled out
from the back wall so that the Minister may stand
behind it during the service. Thus, the whole family of
God gathers around the Table for worship, and each
person approaches God directly, without the need of
a mediating priest.
|Architecture and Symbols
First Presbyterian Church
Chancel as seen from the balcony above the Narthex.
The Celtic Cross is on the Dossal(the red curtain). The
Holy Table is in the center. The Pulpit is on left side of the
Chancel in front of the organ and the Lectern and Choir
on the right. The organ loft is behind the Cross and Dossal
The Narthex and the balcony above it. The Memorial
Window is in the back, but the daylight makes it impossible
to see the detail in the window.
Behind the Holy Table is the Dorsal, and in front of the curtain hangs a large Celtic Cross. The cross is the
most widely used Christian symbol, and represents the obedient self-giving of the Son to the glory of the
Father and for the redemption of mankind. We have an empty cross rather than a crucifix with a figure of the
dying Savior on it to express our faith that the crucified Christ is now the resurrected and the exalted Lord. The
Celtic Cross, with its circle behind the cross-pieces, is the traditional cross of the Church of Scotland, and
therefore of all Reformed or Presbyterian Churches. The circle suggests that God’s love is for the whole world,
and that it is unending.
Protestants believe that the living Word of God comes to man through three principal means: the written word,
or Bible; the spoken word, or sermon; and the enacted word or sacrament. These three means of grace are
equally emphasized in our architectural design. The bible is read from the Lectern on the congregation’s right;
the sermon is preached from the Pulpit, on the people’s left; and the Sacrament is celebrated at the Holy
Table in the center. The prayers in our worship service are led by the Minister from all three places.
The vine carved in our Holy Table and Baptismal Font is one of the most vivid Biblical symbols. It refers to
both the Christ Himself, who said, “I am the true vine” (John 15:1), and to the People of God, who flourish
under the tender care of Him who is the Keeper of the Vineyard (Isaiah 5:7). The vine with tis grapes also
suggests the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, a means by which God through Christ nourishes His People.
The central figure in the front window is a Chalice or Communion Cup containing ears of grain and bunches of
grapes, symbols of the bread and wine of the Sacrament. The crosses in the side portions of the window are
Latin Crosses, and the dove at the very top of the window is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-
Giver of the Church.
Four traditional symbols are inserted in the pew ends. The grapes are a symbol of the blood, or life, of Christ.
The wheat symbolizes Christ as the Bread of Life. Together these symbols suggest the Sacrament of Holy
Communion. The thistle, a symbol of earthy sorrow and sin, suggests the Sufferings of Christ, and particularly
His crown of thorns. The oak, because of its solidity and endurance, signifies the strength of faith and virtue,
and the endurance of the Christian against adversity.
The two candlesticks on the Holy Table are sometimes called
am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in
darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Ancient
Christian usage also interprets the two candles as symbolic
of the two natures of our Lord, divine and human. The HIS in
the offering plates are the first three letters (iota, eta, and
sigma) of the Greek spelling of Jesus.
These symbols, of course, are not ends in themselves but
means to the end of worship. They remind us of the
presence, the power, and the love of God. They enable us to
see as well as hear expressions of God’s Gospel. They link
us with other Christians through the ages to have used the
same symbols. The proper use of symbols is to look beyond
the visible signs to the invisible One to whom they point. So
used, they enrich our worship of Almighty God.
George A. Chauncey
The Holy Table with the two "Gospel Lights"
at the center of the Chancel.