Church pews, long benches that are used for seating members of a congregation in a church, had already been used in the churches in England in the 13th century. These antique church pews used to be fixed to the walls, but then were moved to be fixed to the floor. These pews which used to be made of stones, were replaced by wooden ones from the 14th century onwards, and by the 15th century, church pews were already a common sight in most churches worldwide. There are now even used church pews made of oak.
From the 1600s to the 1800s, churchgoers were seated in church according to social rank, with the highest ranking church pews closer to the pulpit, and the lowest ones furthest away. There were also special pews for special groups such as the poor and the widows. ‘Negro Pews’ were also specially reserved for the black people and native Americans, purchased for them by their masters, and these were often in the upper galleries, far from the pulpit. From 1840s to 1930s, such private pews were transformed into free seating for all.
Antique church pews were often arranged in rows facing the altar in the centre of the church, the purpose of which was to allow for processions. Some of these church pews came with cushions, hassocks or footrests, with slows behind to contain Bibles, prayer books, music scores or other church literature. There could be kneelers with padded boards placed parallel to the bench of each pew, sometimes for prayers.
The popularity of the sermon as a vital part of Christian worship made the pew a standard item of church furniture. Some church pews were paid for by the congregants, and considered their own property, and added on to the costs of building the church. During the late medievaland early modern period, many antique church pews had been handed down through families from one generation to the next.
Furnishing Your Home With Antique Church Pews
Antique church pews and church furniture are highly sought after to use as furniture in homes nowadays. They tend to make great benches for you to sit and remove your shoes and boots in long narrow entry ways, front porches, for long dining tables, in open concept lofts or kitchens, and in narrow foyers. Home stylists usually would push your pew against a wall, as church pews are rather space-spacing furniture. To create a unique, eclectic and whimsical feel to your home, try mixing antique church pews with your other modern furnishings, particularly with striking colours such as orange, yellow or green, and you will create a stunning house that you would definitely be proud of.
Besides acting as seating, church pews can also act as a central art piece in your abode. Other church items such as steeple plans, pulpits, lecterns, prayer desks, chapel chairs, altars, crosses, statues, candlesticks and communion tables can also start interesting conversations during casual dinner gatherings.
Houzz has some great ideas on how to use such vintage church pews to furnish your home, and Pinterest has hundreds of sample houses and even wedding venues using church pews as furniture and seats. And look at this over 100 years old antique church pew and how DIYPlaybook restored the beauty of an antique pew, although honestly, I think it looks better in its original, classic form, with all its peeling paints. Here are more ideas.
You can find these used antique church pews on Craiglist, Gumtree, Church Antiques or eBay nowadays.
Restoration and Maintenance of Your Antique Church Pews
If the church pew you have purchased is already very old and in bad condition, you can find an experienced restorer and appraiser to help you, because sometimes the value of the antique can be greatly reduced with restoration. However, if it is still in good condition but just needs some touch-up, you can try to use an oil-based soup, warm water and a soft cloth to wipe the dirt gently off. Use your fingers to gently touch every part of the pew, and check for any loose pieces, which you can easily push together with wood glue. If the vintage pew has missing parts in the carving, you may want to ask a craftsman to restore it, though I would prefer to keep it in its original, raw stage as it tells a story.
For maintenance, just dust the church pew with a soft duster twice a month and polish it with mild essential oil monthly.