A church is a building used for Christian worship services and other Christian religious activities.
It is not only the place to go for worship for those who follow the faith or religion of Christianity, but it also represents a distinct architectural setup and features that distinguish churches across the world.
Church architecture has evolved over the two thousand years of the Christian religion, partly by innovation and partly by borrowing other architectural styles as well as responding to changing beliefs, practices and
local traditions. From the birth of Christianity to the present, the most significant objects of transformation for Christian architecture and design were the great churches of Byzantium, the Romanesque abbey churches, Gothic cathedrals and Renaissance basilicas with its emphasis on harmony.
The oldest known purpose-built Christian Church in the world can be found in Aqaba in Jordan. Built between 293 and 303, the now-ruined structure predates the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
In the second half of the 3rd century AD, the first purpose-built halls for Christian worship (aula ecclesiae) began to be constructed. Although many of these were destroyed early in the next century during the Diocletianic Persecution, even larger and more elaborate churches began to appear during the reign of the Emperor Constantine the Great.
From the 11th through the 14th centuries, a wave of cathedral-building and construction of smaller parish churches occurred across western Europe. Besides serving as a place of worship, the cathedral or parish church was frequently employed as a general gathering-place by the communities in which they were located, hosting such events as guild meetings, banquets, mystery plays, and fairs. Church grounds and buildings were also used for the threshing and storage of grain.
Gothic-era architecture, originating in 12th-century France, is a style where curves, arches, and complex geometry are highly emphasized. These intricate structures, often of immense size, required great amounts of planning, effort and resources; involved large numbers of engineers and laborers; and often took hundreds of years to complete—all of which was considered a tribute to God.
In the 15th and 16th century, the change in ethics and society due to the Renaissance and the Reformation also influenced the building of churches. The common style was much like the gothic style, but in a simplified way. The basilica was not the most popular type of church anymore, but instead hall churches were built.
The Baroque style was first used in Italy around 1575. From there it spread to the rest of Europe and to the European colonies. During the baroque era, the building industry increased heavily.
The style of chruches in England has gone through many changes under the influence of geographical, geological, climatic, religious, social and historical factors. One of the earliest style changes is shown in Westminster Abbey, which was built in a foreign style and was a cause for concern for many as it heralded change.
The split between Eastern and Western Church Architecture extended its influence into the churches we see in America today as well. America’s churches are an amalgamation of the many styles and cultures that collided here, examples being St. Constantine, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Minneapolis, Polish Cathedral style churches, and Russian Orthodox churches, found all across the country.
In Norway, church architecture has been affected by wood as the preferred material, particularly in sparsely populated areas. Churches built until the second world war are about 90% wooden except medieval constructions.
The largest church in the world is the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (Notre Dame de la Paix) at Yamoussoukro, the legal and administrative capital of Ivory Coast, completed in 1989 at a cost of $164 million. It has a total area of 30,000 with seating for 7,000 people. Including its golden cross, it is 158 m (518 ft) high.
The smallest church in the world is the Santa Isabel de Hungria, which is only 1.96m² in size. It is located in the Malaga province of Andalucia, in the municipality of Benalmadena.
The crypt of the underground Civil War Memorial Church in the Guadarrama Mountains, in the Valley of the Fallen 45 km (28 miles) from Madrid, Spain, is 260 m (853 ft) in length, making it the longest church in the world. It took 21 years (1937-58) to build, at a reported cost of £140 million ($229 million), and is surmounted by a concrete cross 152.4 m tall.
The tallest church or cathedral is Ulm Minster, a Lutheran church located in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The structure, which was built in several phases between 1377 and 1890, has a spire which reaches a height of 161.53 m (530 ft).