Friday, August 26, 2011

NLM Quiz: Why Is This One Pew Backwards? (No. 5) [The Answer]

Can you guess the reason for this odd arrangement? As with our previous quizzes, please give your answer in the comments, and give whatever detail you can about the context and the use. (To make this more interesting, please make your answer in the combox before reading the other comments.) The Answer:

My compliments to the many who guessed that it is a reversible pew, which can be switched around so that the back becomes the seat, and the seat becomes the back. This is done so that worshippers can face the pulpit (not a side altar, nor the baptismal font, in this particular case); the white marble in the upper left hand corner of the photograph is the staircase leading up to the pulpit in the middle of the building. The church in question is the Berner Münster, formerly the Catholic cathedral of Bern, Switzerland, converted to Protestant worship in 1528. I have no expertise in any form of Protestant rite, so correct me if I am wrong, but I am given to understand that Calvinist churches often had services with no Eucharist, just Biblical readings, hymns and sermons, the latter being very long indeed. Such services would have been led from the pulpit from start the finish, so obviously, it would be rather inconvenient to have a large portion of the congregation facing the table.

In our previous quiz, the Most Creative Wildly Incorrect Answer and the Best Humorous Answer awards both went unassigned; this time, the contenders in both classes are almost too close to call. After due consideration, however, the former is awarded to J.C. Saulnier’s guess that the pew is reversible “to allow for a certain type of public penance whereby the penitent was not permitted to look towards the altar.” The electoral college (i.e. me) assigns Best Humorous Answer to Joe Walberg, “For bad worshipers who get put in time out,” although the popular vote went to John Hudson “where people who object to the priest 'turning his back on the congregation' sit in protest.” Next quiz in September!

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