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[probably Gr.,=divine], aggregation of Christian believers. The traditional belief has the church the community of believers, living and dead, headed by Jesus, who founded it in the apostles. This is the doctrine of the mystical body of Christ (Eph. 1.22–23). Some divisions speak of the church militant (the living), the church suffering (the dead in purgatory), and the church triumphant (the saints of heaven). The church is said to be recognizable by four marks (as in the Nicene Creed): it is one (united), holy (producing holy lives), catholic (universal, supranational), and apostolic (having continuity with the apostles). In the Orthodox Eastern Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Church of England, crucial importance is attached to the unbroken tradition, as handed down through the Holy Ghost (see apostolic successionapostolic succession,
in Christian theology, the doctrine asserting that the chosen successors of the apostles enjoyed through God's grace the same authority, power, and responsibility as was conferred upon the apostles by Jesus.
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); with this doctrine goes the apostolic power to administer grace through the sacramentssacrament
[Lat.,=something holy], an outward sign of something sacred. In Christianity, a sacrament is commonly defined as having been instituted by Jesus and consisting of a visible sign of invisible grace. Christianity is divided as to the number and operation of sacraments.
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. Certain men of the Reformation rejected the doctrine of apostolic succession and substituted for the authority of the church the authority of Scripture alone. Protestants generally interpret the oneness of the church in a mystical sense; the true church is held to be invisibly present in all Christian denominations. The ecumenical movement in recent years has stimulated fresh study on the doctrine of the church.


[Gr. kuriakon=belonging to the Lord], in architecture, a building for Christian worship. The earliest churches date from the late 3d cent.; before then Christians, because of persecutions, worshiped secretly, especially in private houses. In Rome and some other cities Christians worshiped at the martyrs' tombs in the underground cemeteries, or catacombscatacombs
, cemeteries of the early Christians and contemporary Jews, arranged in extensive subterranean vaults and galleries. Besides serving as places of burial, the catacombs were used as hiding places from persecution, as shrines to saints and martyrs, and for funeral
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. The catacomb chapel influenced the furnishing of churches, particularly the cryptcrypt
[Gr.,=hidden], vault or chamber beneath the main level of a church, used as a meeting place or burial place. It undoubtedly developed from the catacombs used by early Christians as places of worship. Early churches were commonly built over the tombs of martyrs.
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. The basilicabasilica
, large building erected by the Romans for transacting business and disposing of legal matters. Rectangular in form with a roofed hall, the building usually contained an interior colonnade, with an apse at one end or at each end.
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 form came to be standard in Western Europe, while in the East the norm became the square church of Byzantine architecture (see Byzantine art and architectureByzantine art and architecture,
works of art and structures works produced in the city of Byzantium after Constantine made it the capital of the Roman Empire (A.D. 330) and the work done under Byzantine influence, as in Venice, Ravenna, Norman Sicily, as well as in Syria,
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), derived from the shape of the Greek cross. The interior of the Eastern church is characterized by an image screen (iconostasis) rendering the sanctuary invisible to the lay worshipers, except that the altaraltar,
table or platform for the performance of religious sacrifice. In its simplest form the altar is a small pile, with a square or circular surface, made of stone or wood. Its features vary according to its purpose.
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 may be seen through the doors of the screen. In the West, modifications of the basilica were developed in Romanesque architectureRomanesque architecture and art,
the artistic style that prevailed throughout Europe from the 10th to the mid-12th cent., although it persisted until considerably later in certain areas.
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 and in Gothic architectureGothic architecture and art,
structures (largely cathedrals and churches) and works of art first created in France in the 12th cent. that spread throughout Western Europe through the 15th cent., and in some locations into the 16th cent.
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. RenaissanceRenaissance
[Fr.,=rebirth], term used to describe the development of Western civilization that marked the transition from medieval to modern times. This article is concerned mainly with general developments and their impact in the fields of science, rhetoric, literature, and
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 and baroquebaroque
, in art and architecture, a style developed in Europe, England, and the Americas during the 17th and early 18th cent.

The baroque style is characterized by an emphasis on unity among the arts.
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 architecture produced innovations in ecclesiastical design. Western churches in general have an east-west orientationorientation,
in architecture, the disposition of the parts of a building with reference to the points of the compass. From remote antiquity the traditional belief in the efficacy of religious ceremonials performed at dawn toward the rising sun has influenced the orientation of
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 with the altar at the eastern end. In America, Colonial architects developed an austerely beautiful type of spired church, patterned after the works of Christopher WrenWren, Sir Christopher,
1632–1723, English architect. A mathematical prodigy, he studied at Oxford. He was professor of astronomy at Gresham College, London, from 1657 to 1661, when he became Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford.
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 and James GibbsGibbs, James,
1682–1754, English architect, b. Scotland, studied in Rome under Carlo Fontana. Returning to England in 1709, he was appointed a member of the commission authorized to build 50 churches in London.
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. Churches differ in importance according to their constitution and the position in the hierarchy of their clergy, the cathedralcathedral,
church in which a bishop presides. The designation is not dependent on the size or magnificence of a church edifice, but is entirely a matter of its assignment as the church in which the bishop shall officiate.
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 being the bishop's church. See chapelchapel,
subsidiary place of worship. It is either an alcove or chamber within a church, a separate building, or a room set apart for the purpose of worship in a secular building. A movable shrine containing the cappa, or cloak, of St.
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; abbeyabbey,
monastic house, especially among Benedictines and Cistercians, consisting of not less than 12 monks or nuns ruled by an abbot or abbess. Many abbeys were originally self-supporting. In the Benedictine expansion after the 8th cent.
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; Hagia SophiaHagia Sophia
[Gr.,=Holy Wisdom] or Santa Sophia,
Turkish Ayasofya, originally a Christian church at Constantinople (now İstanbul, Turkey) and then a mosque under Muslim rule.
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; Saint Peter's ChurchSaint Peter's Church,
Vatican City, principal and one of the largest churches of the Christian world. The present structure was built mainly between 1506 and 1626 on the original site of the Vatican cemetery and an early shrine to St. Peter. In the 4th cent.
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; articles on other important churches.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


An edifice or place of assemblage specifically set apart for Christian worship.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved


  1. any body of people, social institutions and associated beliefs and practices, constituting a distinctive religious grouping, e.g. the Methodist Church.
  2. the Christian church as a whole.
In a more technical sociological sense (as initiated by Troeltsch and by Weber), distinctions are also drawn between the church as any well-established religious body, and DENOMINATIONS, SECTS and CULTS, which, together with ‘churches’, can be seen as making up a continuum of types of religious organization (see CHURCH-SECT TYPOLOGY).
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) A special type of religious organization; an association of followers of any religious movement on the basis of common doctrine and rite. The chief distinguishing features of a church are the presence of a more or less elaborated dogmatic and ritual system, a hierarchical character and a centralized government, and the division of all members into professional ministers of the cult (clergy) and rank-and-file believers (laymen).

In all antagonistic social systems, the church is associated with the ruling classes and carries out important political, legal, and ideological functions, which support and sanctify exploiter relationships. In socialist countries, the church performs solely religious functions. Religious organizations, representing private associations of believers, have a single aim, namely, the joint exercise of religious rites; they are obliged to observe legislation governing cults. In the USSR and a majority of other socialist states, the church is separated from the state.

The church took final shape as an institution during the age of feudalism. In this period, it was especially.closely connected with the whole state and social structure, appearing, as F. Engels remarked, “as the most common synthesis and as the most common sanction of the existing feudal order” (in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 7, p. 361). The church parish was not only a religious unit but also a social one, a special type of neighborhood community. All the members of society belonged to the church; excommunication from the church was a punishment and all who left the church qualified as heretics. For rank-and-file parishioners (peasants, tradesmen), the church building was not only a place for the exercise of rituals, but also a political and social center. Membership in a given church in the age of feudalism was based mainly not on conscious choice but on family and national traditions. The church was opposed by sects, which consisted of people who had broken away, deserting the dominant religion and advocating, as a rule, a rejection of the existing order. The majority of sects, in contradistinction to the church, were formulated on the basis of individual, conscious entries into the group.

Under capitalism, the position of the church, as also that of other religious organizations, changed substantially. The church lost us monopoly in various fields of intellectual activity, and in a number of capitalist countries, for example France and the USA, it was separated from the state and lost its former legal position.

A “religious pluralism” has arisen, in which religious organizations that are equal before the law compete with one another; with regard to religion, the individual is presented with a certain freedom of choice, a situation that masks the association of religious organizations and, particularly, the church with the ruling class. Capitalist industrialization and urbanization are changing the face of the basic church community: the role of the parish has been changed by the separation between place of work and place of residence, the strengthening of the social and territorial mobility of the population, and the spread of religious indifferentism and free-thinking. The religious group under capitalism does not coincide with any other social community. Many believers perceive their church membership in only a formal way. The differences between the church and sects are disappearing. The church has in fact ceased to include the whole population. Many sects have become mass organizations, losing their former exclusive character; their condemnation of the existing world order has often been replaced by a full acceptance of it.

The largest Christian churches are the Orthodox Church (composed of autocephalous churches), the Catholic Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, and the Protestant churches (Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinist). Within Protestantism, many sects have been transformed into churches (Methodists, Baptists, and Mennonites).

Within Confucianism, Buddhism, and Judaism, such a clearly expressed corporate, centralized church organization as in Christianity has not developed, although in some cases a hierarchy of clergy exists. At the foundation of these religions lies an emphasis on the identity of the civil and religious community and a rejection in principle of the very idea of their separate existence and therefore of an autonomous religious collective in the form of a church.


(2) The building for divine services in the Christian religion. In the course of the centuries-long history of Christianity, different types of churches took form among the various peoples, consisting at least of an altar, oriented toward the east, and a place for the congregation adjoining. More often the church is a complex of many interdependent parts.

The chief Christian church of a city or monastery is called a cathedral. A Lutheran church is usually called a kirk or kurk; a Polish Catholic Church is called a kościót.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

What does it mean when you dream about a church?

A dream of a church often represents something sacred to the dreamer or symbolizes that the dreamer’s prayers, or prayers by others are being answered. It may also represent a deep inner need for spiritual nourishment or atonement.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


An edifice or place of assemblage specifically set apart for Christian worship.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. a building designed for public forms of worship, esp Christian worship
2. an occasion of public worship
3. the clergy as distinguished from the laity
4. institutionalized forms of religion as a political or social force
5. the collective body of all Christians
6. a particular Christian denomination or group of Christian believers
7. the Christian religion
8. (in Britain) the practices or doctrines of the Church of England and similar denominations


Charlotte. born 1986, Welsh soprano, who made her name with the album Voice of an Angel (1998) when she was 12
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


Dreaming about being in a church is more common than most people realize. Each week I get several requests to add church to the dictionary. This may be due to the fact that most of us went to church as children. From a very early age we had to go to church and were taught that there is a God. This was important in our life and to our families. Dreaming about churches, cathedrals, synagogues, or any other place of worship may represent our childhood associations with religion. At times, the dream may be a muddled childhood memory. The church could represent a need for greater spirituality in the dreamer’s life. It may express religious beliefs, everyday occurrences, issues of safety, security, and strength through community and religious expression. None of us can escape the age-old questions such as “Who am I?” and “What is the meaning of life?” Coping with our own physical mortality is a very big deal. Both our conscious and unconscious minds are continually working and bringing issues of relevance and concern into our awareness. Think about the details of your dream and make an attempt to honestly understand its meaning.
Bedside Dream Dictionary by Silvana Amar Copyright © 2007 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
References in classic literature ?
I know that the Church has lost the--what you call the proletariat."*
Surely this is to bring down the Holy Ghost, instead of the likeness of a dove, in the shape of a vulture or raven; and set, out of the bark of a Christian church, a flag of a bark of pirates, and assassins.
There was as yet no one in the church when we reached it, so we took our accustomed ramble through the graveyard surrounding it.
Her brothers are gone, her father is gone, her mother goeth, the Church's curse is upon her, and none may shelter or befriend her even though she lay perishing in the road.
And all the people in the church looked at Karen's red shoes, and all the pictures, and as Karen knelt before the altar, and raised the cup to her lips, she only thought of the red shoes, and they seemed to swim in it; and she forgot to sing her psalm, and she forgot to pray, "Our Father in Heaven!"
Curse your indolent worthlessness, why don't you rob your church?"
I left my bag at the hotel to wait there till I called for it, and, after inquiring the way, set forth on foot for Old Welmingham church.
The ten liveried archers rushed forward from the rear of the church, where they had been stationed.
Macey himself, rightly knows what they mean; but they've a good meaning, for they're the same as is on the pulpit-cloth at church. What are they, Aaron, my dear?"
is that church which lends Strength to the spoiler thine?"
You're going to church tonight, and how can you face your Maker when you've been breaking one of His laws in the afternoon?"
The elders of the church liked him because he was quiet and unpretentious and Mrs.