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Church Pews

Updated on August 19, 2010
Photo by Benjamin Earwicker
Photo by Benjamin Earwicker

Pews (Old French, pui, from Latin, podium, a balcony) are enclosed stalls, or, also, open seats in a church devoted to the sole occupancy of a person or family. In the early part of the 14th century worshippers in churches were accustomed to stand or to sit on the floor. A little later they were provided with short three-legged stools. But from 1450 onward mention is found in church records of "pues" The title of ''reading Pue" was given in those days to the elevated stall which held the reading desk. Pews were in use before the Reformation in England and are held by their occupants in the Established Church, by two tenures : first, by prescriptive right, when they descend as an heir-loom; second, all pews not so held are at the disposal of the bishop of the diocese for use and benefit of the parish, and are under him assigned by the church wardens to the parishioners according to their rank. The bishop may grant the right to sit in a particular pew. In the disposal of the pews or seats in the area of parish churches in Scotland parishioners have a preferable claim according to the valued amount of their rent. The disposal of pews or seats in churches of other denominations is a matter of private arrangement. They are commonly rented to defray the congregational expenses. In the United States pews are the property of the church corporation, who can sell or lease them. Whether property in pews is real or personal depends upon the provision made in the statutes of the different States. A purchaser or lessee of a pew may maintain an action at law for trespass or disturbance in the enjoyment of his right. The usual church practice under its rules is to reserve owned and leased pews only for a limited period after the commencement of a regular service. If they are not then occupied by the owner or lessee, they are at the disposal of the ushers for seating other attendants at the service.

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