December 23rd, 2017


Bath Abbey is taking out its Victorian pews. Not everyone is thrilled.

But I'm all for it because:

1. Medieval churches were built as basilicas- big, adaptable, community spaces. They were never meant to be choked with heavy furniture. Medieval people expected to use them for all sorts of things beside worship, for meetings private and public, for festivity, for the conduct of business, for storage and shelter. Pews tyrannise; they impose sight lines, encourage passivity and limit functionality. They are instruments of theocracy. You won't wander about, they say, but sit still, all look in the same direction and pay attention to the parson. 

2. Pews are bloody uncomfortable.

In our traipsings round the country we often visit churches that have passed out of the care of the Church of England and into that of the Churches Conservation Trust. CCT churches have usually had their pews removed- and once you've seen a church with its floor space open- and felt the airiness and freedom that results- you really don't want to move the furniture back in.