Steeples are standard fixtures atop church roofs across the world. These spires call worshippers' attention upward toward the heavens, and the ringing bells signal the start and end of services. Materials and designs depend upon parishioners' tastes and budgets. Regardless of whether a church community chooses fibreglass over slate, the standard rule is to keep the steeple proportioned to the size of the church so that the tower does not overwhelm the building.
Steeples are traditionally white, which is a carryover from the American colonial times when wood and labour were plentiful, says the Religious Products News website. Metal was scarce in the early colonies, but wood was abundant. Wooden structures typically were whitewashed for protection, along with any cornice or trimmings. This same tradition applied to church towers. The biggest drawback of wooden church steeples was that they became weather-beaten over time. But labour was easily available and affordable to the early American settlers, and church congregations could afford the frequent maintenance on their wooden steeples.
Copper came into vogue because congregations did not want to continue with the upkeep of wooden steeples, says the Religious Produce News website. Copper is expected to last 70 to 100 years, making it an acceptable material in steeples. Disadvantages of using copper are its green discolouration and the expense. However, parishioners grew to admire the greenish tints and believed the maintenance-free quality would offset the initial cost.
Slate became fashionable in church steeples, especially in Gothic, Gothic Revival and Romanesque architecture, according to the Religious Products News website. These shingles had longevity and required little maintenance, says ReligiousProductsNews.com. But on the negative side, slate was fragile and heavy, leaving shingles to crumble under workers' weight. Steeple manufacturers today use a zinc alloy to form a lightweight imitation slate surface. As with copper, weather conditions cause faux slate to change colour within months of construction.
Most steeples today are made of fibreglass, according to the Christianity Today website. In fact, steeple manufacturers have borrowed some of their ideas from the boating industry. Fibreglass is lightweight and sturdy and offers a finish similar to porcelain. Steeple designers mould the fibreglass to create many architectural varieties of church toppers. And budget-conscious parishes appreciate the low-maintenance features of fibreglass, especially that this plastic-style of material requires no repainting. Manufacturers recommend a gel coat finish to prevent steeples from yellowing from ultraviolet rays. Another advantage to using this more modern material is that fibreglass will not act as a lightening rod during severe rainstorms, according to Christianity Today.