Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: Church architecture ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Church architecture
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: grzybacz-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 04 Sep 2004 17:06 PDT
Expires: 04 Oct 2004 17:06 PDT
Question ID: 396919
Why do traditional church buildings have two towers flanking the entrance?
Subject: Re: Church architecture
Answered By: digsalot-ga on 04 Sep 2004 18:28 PDT
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Hello there

You will find that towers, or a tower, flanking the entry to a church
is not a univerasal usage.  Many Christian architectural traditions
are centered on domes, bell towers separate from the church structure
itself, multiple domed vaults, etc.

In fact, there is a theological significence attached to the domes
where there is none associated with the traditional origins and use of
towers.  The number of domes has meaning, the names of the domes has a
meaning, and even what part of the church they cover has a meaning.

The tower concept originated in the British Isles and had a practical
rather than theological basis, and is in fact, Saxon in origin.

"...No, all church towers are not Saxon, but the idea of towers was
developed by the Saxons as a way of dealing with the threat of attack
by the Danes. The towers could be used as lookout posts, and in times
of attack they might be the only refuge for villagers from the
invaders. The idea took hold from physical necessity, then became a
tradition in church architecture." - Quote from Britain Express -
"Anglo-Saxon churches, church architecture, and early Saxon crosses."

From there the concept spread throughout many regions of Western Christianity.

"Often the tower is the oldest structural part of the church building.
The Saxons built a tall tower at the west end of the church during the
9th and 10th centuries. Its main use was to carry bells, rather like
the Italian campanile. At the same time it was a defensive refuge in
times of danger, built without a staircase at the base (a ladder was
used) and with minor openings in the lower stages. Some towers had
porches for priests to live in, with a window overlooking the nave
from which they were able to say their night offices without
descending the stairs." - From Parish of Prestbury, Gloucestershire,
Parochial Church Council - - Without
actually saying so, it still gives support to a Saxon origin for the
Western Tradition of church towers.  You will find some interesting
additional information in the article which does mention that all the
earliest church towers were Saxon.

In those churches where Eastern architectural tradition holds, there
is often a tower as well.  However, the tower is not attached to the
church, can be located anywhere on the church grounds, and functions
mostly as a "bell" support.  These types of towers don't fall under
the guidelines of your question.

The "Leaning Tower of Pisa" is a good example of the 'detached' bell
tower. (a Western Rite church with a strong 'Eastern' architectural
influence.)  St. Marks in Venice would be another example.

search - Google
Terms - church architectual history - meanings and symbolisms

If I may clarify anything before rating the answer, please ask.

Cheers and happy bell ringing

Request for Answer Clarification by grzybacz-ga on 04 Sep 2004 23:41 PDT
My question was specifically about having two towers on each side of
the main entrance to the church or cathedral, not just one tower as in
the Saxon churches you mention.  The two-tower design, according to
James Haverty Smith, "Catholic Churches: A Synthesis of Forms," was
part of the Aachen basilica at the time of Charlemagne's coronation as
Holy Roman Emperor in AD 800. So the two-tower design, at least at
Aachen, pre-dates the single-tower Saxon churches.  Also, when the
Pantheon in Rome was first converted into a Christian church, two
towers flanking the front were added (and removed centuries later.) 
What I'm really after is some kind of explanation in terms of
Christian tradition or symbolism.

Clarification of Answer by digsalot-ga on 05 Sep 2004 03:12 PDT
I will try from that angle.  However, I feel you will find that there
were as many reasons for building church towers (outside of the
Saxons) as there are towers and that a single unifying symbolic
principle will be something, if it now exists, that evolved much later
in time than the architectural form itself.

Back later today.


Clarification of Answer by digsalot-ga on 05 Sep 2004 06:10 PDT
Hello again

James Haverty Smith's actual quote about the towers is: - - "There, at
Aachen, where Charlemagne would reside as the first Holy Roman
Emperor, the basilican church was expanded to the west to include two
towers which straddled the main entrance. This towered entrance later
evolved into the westworks.

"The westworks became an exterior counterbalance to the tower over the
church sanctuary, while inside the westworks a throne was designed so
that Charlemagne could sit facing opposite the sanctuary.
Charlemagne's towered entrance served as a visible reminder, both
inside and outside of the church, of the role of the Holy Roman
Emperor opposite that of the clergy, and in particular of the papacy.
Four hundred years later, the westworks evolved into the great western
towers of Chartres." - From

Now Mr. Smith is an excellent architect and the history of
architecture is an excellent study.  And while symbolism and meaning
is a part of architectural training, it is not the depth of training
in symbolism given the anthropologist.  I must answer this question
from that point of view since your question approaches the "need" to
find a symbolism for the use of two towers as part of the architecture
of certain churches.

"One of the creations of Carolingian architects was the westwork, a
multi-storey entrance fašade flanked by bell towers, attached to
Christian basilicas. Westworks were prototypes of the great Romanesque
and Gothic cathedral fašades..."  In this case, we find that the
innovation of towers was as primarily a bell support.  An evolution in
architecture, true, but one driven by artistic sense rather than
theological basis.  In fact, if we read back over Smith's quote again,
we find that the towers were considered a symbol of theological
opposition and the declaration of a "civil" authority as against that
of the church.  Certainly no pro-Christian, pro-church symbolism
there.  Just the opposite.

The "towers" of the Pantheon did in fact exist.  And they were there
for a couple of hundred years, at least.  However, the towers were not
added when the Pantheon first became a Christian church but much

"During the Renaissance, Urban VIII, also known as Barberini, employed
a man named Bernini to add two turrets in the front of the Santa Maria
(Pantheon), near the portico. Many thought they were an ugly addition,
and became popularly known as the "ass ears of Bernini". They were
removed in 1883A.D. Barberini was not done with the Pantheon yet
though, he melted down the bronze ceiling of the portico for St.
Peter's, an act of vandalism. This took part in inspiring Pasquino's
saying "what the barbarians didn't do, Barberini did." - Quote from:

Now we have covered the two main examples in your clarification
request.  The towers at Aachen were an architectural innovation and
political statement to which any symbolic attachment was more
anti-Christian tradition and symbolism than not.

The towers at the Pantheon come too late in history to be part of any
"developmental" Christian tradition or symbolism.

One thing we must remember, whether the towers of the Saxons (refer
back, some Saxon churches had two) or the architectural innovations of
the Early Middle Ages, the concept of building towers, for whatever
reason, is universal.  It is not something that "came-along" with

The concept of flanking the entrance to an important place with twin
towers is so deeply buried in human history, and the human psyche,
that the only surprise would have been for it "not" to have shown up
in Christian usage sooner or later.

It may have well started (probably did) far in the misty, distant,
past of prehistory. (I just love it when I wax poetic - so do my
anthropology students who just want me to shut-up and pass out the
research assignments)

Here we are back to the 'watch tower' premise again.  The earliest of
walled permanent human settlements had access gates flanked by towers
for defensive and observation purposes.  Since the city/city state was
the most important thing in most people's eyes, these gate towers were
not only defensive, they marked the entrance into an "important

As these cities grew and other "important spaces" were incorporated
within them, such as temples, etc, these spaces were also entered
through doubly towered gates.  The concept of 'towered entry' to
important space had carried over from the symbolism of the city gate
towers themselves.

Pairs of large single stones frequently mark the entry to sacred space
from the earliest of times.  The great temples of Egypt were fronted
by twin pylon towers.  The gate towers of many ancient cities became
works of art and symbols of civic pride.

Plus, there is the fact that we humans have an artistic bent.  "Two"
may have started out as a practical form of defense for a gate type or
restricted space, but "two" was also recognized as something of visual
balance - or to give balance to something else.  For example, back to
Smith's quote:  "The westworks became an exterior counterbalance to
the tower over the church sanctuary"  Artistic merit or architectural
balance may have played as much of a role as any theological

From every continent except Australia and Antarctica, we have ancient
examples of twin towered entryways.

The concept was already there and deeply established before
Christianity came along.  As mentioned earlier, the surprise would
have been if some part of Christianity had "not" adopted the design.

Now we need to get into the reasons these towers were built.  As you
pointed out, there were towers before the time of the Saxon towers. 
Of course there were.  Some were architectural innovations, as at
Aachan, some were bell towers only, but whatever they were, they were
"local" innovations and not a regular part of church structures of the
time or in the region.

The first place where towers "were a regular part" of church
architecture still remains Saxon England.  They were common to both
the time and the region.  Some churches had one - some two.

When getting to the symbolism, we have a study in cultural
anthropology to assemble here.

Consider the following: - - The main symbols of Christianity permeate
the historic church, both East and West.  Church domes, in both the
Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions have names and the
number of them has meaning.  This Christian tradition and symbol is
universal in the most ancient churches.  If twin church towers had as
strong a symbolic meaning, the twin tower tradition would have been
much more widespread.  - It was not. - It was a tradition only of the
northern and central parts of Western Europe.  In Southern Europe
there were church towers as well.  But the tradition there remained
either a separate building as at Piza, or the construction of a single
tower which was often the exterior artistic focus.   The vast swath of
Eastern Christian lands from Finland to Russia and the Mideast, never
developed a twin tower philosophy at all.  there are a few, but they
exist in cultural and architectural isolation.

"Two" is an important Christian symbol.  There is the "dual" nature of
Christ as God and man.  If an Orthodox Church has two domes, that is
what they stand for.  And if a Roman Catholic church has two domes,
that is what they stand for.  The symbolism is universal.  No such
universal symbolism for towers exists.  If it did, the tradition would
be more widespread.

If the twin towers does have a symbolism, it must be localized, vary
by region, and be fairly recent in origin.

The same comparison can be made to all the major symbols of
Christianity.  Those which came about in the earliest church became
universal.  So we cannot date any tower symbolism from that time.  The
evidence would be there.

Major traditions which came about later, about the time of the Great
Schism, became more localized divided between East and West, but they
still divided the world between them.  A strong twin tower symbolism
evolving then would have dominated one or the other.  It didn't.  So
we cannot date any major tower symbolism from that time.  The evidence
would be there.

Even within the western tradition, with the exception of those
isolated cases where towers were built, we are back to the Saxons. 
Other than in Saxon England, towers were of little importance in the
rest of the Christian world.  If they had a significent meaning, their
use would have been more widespread.  So there was no major tower
symbolism involved.  The evidence would be there.

So the answer has to stand as is.  Church towers were utilitarian in
origin, whether as watch towers in Saxon England, architectural
innovations as at Aachan, which also make a political statement, or as
simple artistic preference. There is no ancient symbolism attached to
Church towers regardless of their number.

Any symbolisms you may find regarding the subject would be rather
recent in origin and an example of "symbol emerging from utility"
rather than symbolism actually driving the original design.

If any further clarification, please ask.

grzybacz-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars

There are no comments at this time.

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy