In 1517 a relatively unknown professor of Divinity published a series of “theses” on the current version of Twitter (or was it Facebook?)
Martin Luther’s version of Facebook (or was it Twitter?) involved paper, a nail and the Wittenburg Church door.
It went viral.
Luther was hugely disturbed by the church practice at that time of selling “Indulgences” whereby those with money could buy themselves a place at the front of the queue at the Pearly Gates.
His “Theses” made two main points:
- Salvation is earned by faith alone. You cannot buy your way to heaven; your soul will be saved only if you believe in God and follow his teachings.
- The bible is the only authority. The Roman Catholic church was rich and powerful. It wrote many extra rules, largely designed to keep it that way.
People needed to hear the word of God, not the rules of the church.
You may inagine that the Catholic Church was not best pleased with this, but others embraced his teaching and from these beginnings the third main branch of Christianity came into being: Roman Catholisism, Greek Orthodoxy and Protestantism.
What does that have to do with our pew?
Quite a lot, really!
It is easy to work your way through the historical artefacts of a place like St Andrew’s with little or no regard as to what is happening in the world around. In 1533 Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic church so that he could marry the pregnant Anne Boleyn. This probably made little immediate change to our churches and the priests. The annexing of the power and wealth of the monasteries in the Dissolution was probably far more disturbing but more significant was the slow and steady rise of the Protestant Church.
Big political changes may happen on the instant but down at ground level people and churches will change more slowly. Services will have evolved to incorporate Martin Luther’s teaching.
The importance of the Bible and its writings grew – and that inevitably meant that the meaning of the Bible needed explanation. What we now know as the sermon was born. While it was quite acceptable to stand through the old-style service when only the old and weakest “went to the wall” where there may be benches, everyone needed to sit to listen. And, of course, the well-heeled “nobility” of the parish would demand their own space.
The previously uncluttered naves of churches began to be fillled with pews – and if you were able, you made sure it had a fence around it and a gate to keep the riff-raff away. And this is what Edward Eltoft of Farnhill Hall did in 1633.
This fairly simple enclosure has benches on three sides. When no longer kept as an exclusive area for one family, it has been used as a special enclosed area for children and now, as a secluded and private place for those who want to pray quietly.