How to Identify the Interior Parts of a Church

Updated April 17, 2017

Church architecture has long been a fascination for the religious and non-religious alike. Ken Follet's epic and best-selling tale "Pillars of the Earth" appealed to this fascination through its painstakingly detailed description of the building of medieval cathedrals in Europe. For the neophyte in the realm of church architecture, it is helpful to know how to identify the typical parts of a church's interior.

Enter the main entrance of the church building and look for an entry area. This area is known as the narthex. Examine the walls and traits of this room. Compare it to the foyer or entrance of a home. If you are entering this church on a Sunday morning, look for a couple of greeters just inside the main entry door. They may offer you a program bulletin and direct you to a coat rack.

Look for some large internal doors opening into a large, pew-filled room. This is the sanctuary, the place of worship. Some traditions refer to this room as the nave. The rows and rows of anchored pews face toward the front or altar area, where you should see large religious symbols, an elevated pulpit or podium. On a Sunday morning this room will fill up with worshippers. It is the central gathering chamber for Christian worship.

Walk forward from the back of the sanctuary toward the front, look for some sort of separation, marking where the pews end and the sacred symbols and elements are displayed. There may be a small banister, a few stairs going up, a communion table or an elevated cross. This special area is known as the chancel or, in some churches, the altar. It is the area where the priests, ministers, and worship leaders perform their priestly duties.

Look to one side or the other in the rear of the chancel area for a door or doorway. Enter this door and you will find a sacristy, a small room through which the priests and ministers will generally enter the sanctuary. Look for a closet or wardrobe area with hangers on which vestments are displayed. These are robes, stoles, and cassocks the priest or minister wears when performing sacramental duties in the chancel or altar area.


Church buildings have evolved over the years. Not all churches will have the traditional components referred to in this article.

Things You'll Need

  • Church building (preferably more than 100 years old)
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About the Author

Toby Jones has been a writer since 1981. He has written sports articles and sermons, as well as two books, "The Gospel According to Rock" and "The Way of Jesus." Jones also teaches writing at preparatory schools and colleges. He has a Bachelor of Arts in English from DePauw University and a Master of Divinity from Princeton University.