A hall church is a church with a nave and aisles of approximately equal height, often united under a single immense roof. The term was invented in the mid-19th century by Wilhelm Lübke, a pioneering German art historian. In contrast to an architectural basilica, where the nave is lit from above by the clerestory, a hall church is lit by the windows of the side walls typically spanning almost the full height of the interior.
In English language, there are two problems of terminology on hall churches:
- The term hall church is ambiguous because the term hall is ambiguous. In some cases, the church of a manor house ("hall") is called a hall church. Regarding the shapes of churches, hall church is also used for large aisleless churches, an entirely different type. Aisleless churches with a rectangular plan are called zaalkerk in Dutch and Saalkirche in German, zaal/Saal, derived from French salle, marking large rooms of less extent than hal/Halle.
- The obligatory distinction between nave and aisle, which does not exist in other European languages, is inappropriate for many hall churches. In Dutch the schip ('ship', entire nave) can consist of two, three or more parallel beuken (lit. 'bellies'), and the koor ('choir, chancel') can do as well.
The first churches with naves and aisles of equal height were crypts. The first aisled hall church north of the Alps is St Bartholomew's Chapel (German: Bartholomäuskapelle) at Paderborn, consecrated c.1017. In western France, there are some Romanesque hall churches with parallel barrel vaults. Poitiers Cathedral is considered to be the first Gothic hall church, and was probably an example for the Gothic hall churches of Westphalia. Most familiar was the construction of aisled hall churches in the late Gothic period, most notably in the areas of Westphalia and upper Saxony.
Frauenkirche, Munich, a hall of three naves with lateral extensions
Church of the Jacobins, Toulouse, a twin-naved hall church
Church of the Holy Cross (Cádiz), the southernmost hall church in continental Europe
In the Netherlands and Flanders, most hall churches have no stone vaults under one longitudinal roof, as is typical in Germany, but wooden barrel vaults with separate longitudinal roofs over each nave or aisle. In England, there are more than a thousand aisled hall churches with wooden barrel or waggon roofs, as well as other kinds of ceilings (see Commons:Category:Hall churches in England by county), though official descriptions do not use the term hall church. In German literature on English medieval architecture, they are mentioned as a frequent type peripherally.
In Devon, more than 200 churches (or a part of a church) are such aisled halls, forming the majority of all church buildings, there. In parts of Wales, two-vessel halls are a traditional type of churches, as mentioned using terms like "typical two naves" in descriptions by Cadw. In Scotland, some aisled hall churches are Neoclassical buildings, and some aisled Gothic Revival hall churches have been built there transferring medieval English forms.
Temple Church, London
Temple Church, aisled hall 1240
Fort George Chapel, flat ceilings at almost equal levels
Some Gothic Revival churches apply the hall church model, particularly those following German architectural precedents. One example of a neo-Gothic hall church is St. Francis de Sales Church in Saint Louis, Missouri, designed by Viktor Klutho and completed in 1908.
A completely separate 20th-century usage employs the term hall church to mean a multi-purpose building with moveable seats rather than pews and a chancel area which can be screened off, to allow use as a community centre during the week. This was particularly popular in Britain in inner city areas from the 1960s onwards.
Principles and variations
Some typical forms of hall churches and how to distinguish them from basilicas:
Pseudo-basilica, the central nave extends to an additional storey, but it has no upper windows.
Basilica, the central nave extends to two storeys above the lateral aisles, called gallery and clerestory.
Various floorplans of hall churches:
St. Martin's Church, Lauingen, with three equal naves
St. Elizabeth's Church, Marburg, cruciform
Franciscan Church, Berchtesgaden, with two equal naves
Lists of almost all hall churches of Europe are available on French Wikipedia (incomplete for Germany) and German Wikipedia. The listed churches are identical with the national lists in Czech, Dutch (for the Netherlands and Belgium), Polish, Portuguese and Spanish Wikipedias.
- Wilhelm Lübke Die mittelalterliche Kunst in Westfalen (1853)
- DES ÉGLISES-HALLES ROMANES AU GOTHIQUE ANGEVIN
- Holger Kempkens, Bernhard II. zur Lippe und die Architektur der Abteikirche Marienfeld in : Jutta Prieur (ed.), Lippe und Livland, Bielefeld 2008, ISBN 9783895347528 (Table of contents)
- Johann Josef Böker, Englische Sakralarchitektur des Mittelalters, published by Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1984, ISBN 3-534-09524-1, pp. 170 and 228–229.