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Worship: Buildings

Synagogues

After the final destruction of the great Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD, local synagogues became the focus of Jewish communities. A synagogue is not a 'holy building' in itself, but a place for study, meeting and communal worship.

Externally, synagogues usually reflect local architectural styles. At the entrance is a vestibule which may have washing facilities. In Orthodox synagogues, the sexes are separated. The congregation face Jerusalem while praying. That direction is indicated by the Ark, which contains the scrolls of the Torah. Services are led from a raised platform where the desk for reading the Torah is located.

 

Churches

Christian churches are often the most distinctive building in a town or village, and may be centuries old. Church architecture is an enormous and detailed study, but their typical form derives from the Roman basilica (meeting hall) when public Christian worship grew following the Christianisation of the Roman Empire in the 400s.

Traditionally churches are cross-shaped, with the long axis aligned east-west. The area east of the transept (the crossways section) provides space for choir stalls and an altar. The church has a pulpit for addressing the congregation, and a font for baptisms. Churches may be decorated with stained-glass windows or frescoes. An Orthodox church usually displays icons.

 

Mosques

The mosque (in Arabic, masjid) is at the heart of a Muslim community. Traditionally its most distinguishing feature from outside is a minaret (a tower from where the call to prayer is made). The first mosque is held to be the Ka'bah, built by Adam and rebuilt by Abraham on the orders of God. The first mosque built by Muhammad is the Quba in Medina.

At the entrance of a mosque, facilities for washing are provided. Beyond a courtyard is a large open area for prayer usually covered by a carpet. There are no chairs or pews. A niche (mihrab) built inside one of the inner walls shows the direction of Mecca towards which Muslims face in prayer. Men and women pray in separate areas.

A mosque may also serve as a school, meeting-place or venue for social functions.

Bevis Marks, London: Britain’s oldest synagogue

Southwark Cathedral, London

East London Mosque, Whitechapel