Steeples are often thought of as a staple for many churches. Many people wonder how and why these featured elements came to be so popular in church design. Originally, steeples were designed to serve many purposes. To understand how steeples came to their modern aesthetic basis, it is important to understand the history behind the American steeple.
What Did a Steeple Do?
Steeples were designed to serve a plethora of purposes, but they primarily served as a means of reminding people to look upward to the heavens upon entering the place of worship. As a long, tall structure fitted at the top of a church, the steeple helped to direct attention towards God and Heaven with the element of vertical lines. It was a common belief that this structure would keep church goers in a heavenly mindset as they came to worship.
There were multiple other functions for steeples besides being a reminder of God. Many early steeples contained large clocks or bells that were used to signal time and announce when a service was beginning. Accurate clocks were hard to come by and expensive, so many steeples incorporated a clock or bells to help keep track of time. The steeple was often taller than any other building, so the sound of the bells was able to travel throughout the entire area, making the church an easy place to find. With its height and the tolls of the bells, the steeple made the church visible to everyone.
Steeples also served to enhance the look of churches and drive away evil spirits. The steep roofs and pointed tips were thought of as being intimidating to evil spirits. Gargoyles were also added to the base of steeples to scare off these unwanted spirits.
What Inspired a Steeple’s Design?
The steeple’s design was inspired by the classical architecture of European cathedrals that was popular during the eighteenth century. James Gibbs and Sir Christopher Wren had the majority of the impact on steeples as we know them. Gibbs wrote “The Book of Architecture,” that highlighted the popular architectural trends of the century and included an entire section on steeples. With the influence of Gothic, Victorian, and Georgian styles, these architects - and many others - wanted American churches to rival the grand cathedrals from Europe. That is why much of the early architecture of the American church was influenced by the work overseas.
In the colonial era, metal was extremely hard and expensive to obtain, and wood was a much more affordable option. Because of the cheaper price of wood and its vast availability, many older steeples are made from wood. During this time period, almost anything made of wood was whitewashed. Over time, this created the classic color for the white steeple. However, with modern materials and colors readily available, it is much easier to select a different color and material for your steeple’s build.
The Modern Steeple
Today, many steeples are much more varied than they initially were. Some steeples feature different design elements that work to accessorize the steeple itself. The steeple has become more than just a symbol but also an aesthetic element of the church.
Options for materials to build your steeple from are much more varied to include fiberglass, metal, or stone. Also, they are much more customizable with the size, color, and design features. Today, many steeples as a whole are built from more durable materials that will last much longer and require much less maintenance.
Here at American Steeples, we want you to have the steeple that makes your church stand out. We offer free estimates to go over all of the services we offer. We want to craft the most ideal steeple for you and your church, so call or visit our website today!