The Episcopal Church Welcomes You
» Site Map   » Questions    
elife_archiveHdr

Since you asked...
Connie Kretschmer from Wellington, Nev., asked in April's letters to the editor, "Why is the church door red?" Several readers provided the following theories.


 
Why is the church door red?

One explanation was that red indicated the mortgage was paid. I take this with a grain of salt since I also was told the starred verses in the hymnal indicated the theologically questionable verses! It wasn't until a seminary liturgy class when I volunteered this information that I discovered it was meant to be a joke, albeit one I didn't get at the time.

The second, and I think logical, explanation is the red door indicates the Holy Spirit's presence.

Yep, I vote for the second answer.

Editor's note: The starred verses in the hymnal represent optional verses.

St. James Episcopal Church, Cashmere, Wash., with the Rev. F. Hugh Magee as vicar, has just painted its double front doors a brilliant red, following the tradition that red doors in the early days of the church signified a place of safety and refuge. For example, a soldier could not pursue an enemy who had entered through the red doors of a church.

Red doors told of holy ground behind them, protecting people from both physical and spiritual evil. Today many Episcopal and Lutheran churches proclaim with their red doors that our churches are a haven for emotional and spiritual healing, and are a place of refuge and safety, forgiveness and reconciliation -- in other words, red doors invite the passers-by into a space filled with the Holy Spirit.

Doors of mainline Protestant churches, especially Lutheran churches, are red because the doors of Wittenburg Cathedral in Wittenburg, Germany, where Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses were red. The red doors simply symbolize that we are a church of the Reformation.

I have been a lifelong Episcopalian (I am now 73 years old) and way back in my Sunday school years, I was told the door was red until the mortgage was paid off. I also saw this mentioned in a movie not too many years ago, but sadly I do not remember the name of the movie.

Doris M. Zmirich
Palm Harbor, Fla.

In response to "Why is the door red," I always thought it was because of Passover until I read differently. The answer I read: Red doors traditionally mean "sanctuary" --the ground beyond the doors is holy, and anyone who goes through them is safe from harm. Some churches also say the red signifies the blood of Christ that has been shed so that all who come to God's care may be saved. In ancient times, no one could pursue an enemy past red doors into a church, and certainly no one could be harmed or captured inside a church.

After endless queries, I found some keys to unlock the mystery of "red doors." The red door tradition goes back to the beginnings of cathedral architecture in the Middle Ages. The color red, signifying the Blood of Christ, was painted on the north, south and east doors of a church. Such symbolism represented making the sign of the cross -- Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Thus the edifice was marked as a sanctuary, identified as a refuge and safety zone from physical or spiritual dangers. The red doors shut out evil. Supposedly an enemy could not pursue his victim across the sacred threshold.

The red-door tradition continues even today in our Episcopal church (and some Roman Catholic and Methodist churches as well) although its interpretation may have changed. Now the color red shines forth with the warmth of welcome. Now the color red gleams like fire, showing the light and presence of the Holy Spirit for all who enter in.

Do you have a question about the Episcopal Church, its history, traditions or teachings? Let us know what you're wondering about. Write to ask@episcopal-life.org.