PULPIT: The platform in a church from which the speaker addresses the audience. In primitive Christendom the preacher's position was regularly inside the railing (cancelli) which separated choir and nave, an arrangement still further emphasized in the metropolitan cathedral; where the bishop was the preacher. At the same time personal considerations, questions of room, and other influences came to lend their weight in ever greater degree to the reservation of the Ambo (q.v.), which had originally been set apart for the lections, for the homiletic discourse whether inside or outside the railing. A development thus took shape which found its expression in the pulpit, although not until centuries later; the German designation Kanzel still reechoes a more primitive connection with cancelli ("chancel," or crossbars).
Developed from the Ambo. The growing centralization of the entire worship upon the mass, and the more ceremonial decoration of the choir in consequence, no longer allowed place for the sermon in these hallowed precincts, quite apart from the fact that the decline of preaching in the first half of the medieval era took away all interest in the matter (see PREACHING, HISTORY OF). Not until after the sermon had again attained some significance in public worship, did the practical question of the preacher's place in the sanctuary once more come urgently to the front. The historical connection of the same with the ambo, whether in the form of an isolated construction, or accessory to the rood-loft, was still an extant fact; and this was the starting point. The ambo, however, came to be more or less projected into the central nave, to face the congregation. None the less during this transition period and even much later, movable "preaching chairs" of wood continued in use in all Western Christendom. This device was promoted especially through the mendicant orders' habit of delivering sermons abroad in the public squares. Indeed, in the early Middle Ages these movable stands hardly went out of fashion. In Germany, as commonly in the North of Europe, the sermon's place adhered longer to the modified rood-loft that was fitted up for this purpose and for the liturgical lections. The fuller and freer development of the pulpit in all countries to which it gained entrance was not eventually assured before the late Gothic period in the fifteenth century; while the Reformation movement brought this development into still wider and swifter activity not only in Protestant but also in Roman Catholic jurisdictions.
Medieval Pulpit-Decorations. The pulpit now becomes a conspicuous, indispensable fixture of the interior equipment of churches; and in keeping with its importance it is appropriated by art as an object highly fruitful for its purposes. Its connection with choir and ambo ceases entirely, and the portable wooden pulpit disappears. From late Gothic times onward, the pulpit is a fixed essential to the central nave, and is almost as indispensable as the baptismal font. Its materials in the Middle Ages were stone and wood; the Renaissance preferred wood. Rarely the pulpit adjoins the wall in a freely suspended manner; but usually it rests on a structural base, on a pillar or column. Again, statues appear as bearers-Moses, kings of Israel, Peter, Paul, angels, even Christ himself. At the bottom lie monsters as images of the demonic powers overcome by the Church and now its servants. Not only here but elsewhere in pulpit art, solemn warnings are occasionally introduced for preachers and hearers alike. And still more richly does art unfold itself in the case of the commonly octagonal, more rarely hexagonal or circular, breastwork surrounding the platform. From single ornament to detail figures and entire scenes, decorative art has here been active. Christ and his apostles, the four Church Fathers (in medieval times the favorite theme), saints, especially the patrons of the founder or of the Church-the symbols of the four Evangelists (frequent in the Reformation era and predominantly so on Protestant soil), personified virtues, the well-known typical figures of medieval imagery, Old- and New-Testament scenes, etc., complete this copious cycle. Equally appropriated to the operations of art is the stairway arrangement; an elegantly perforated balustrade, often with statues, embellishes the way. With conscious design to this end, images of Moses and the prophets were employed. A similar decoration was finally bestowed upon the indispensable and often tremendous sounding-board, which in the Gothic era sometimes rears itself like an open tower or towering cupola.
Later Development. In the Renaissance age these forms become simplified; indeed, a certain sobriety and monotony come to prevail. Toward the end of the eighteenth century and in the early years of the nineteenth-sporadically still earlier-the pulpit was relegated to the altar's enclosure, and became associated with the altar in such sort that it was either constructed over the altar wall, or else it was erected behind the altar, which in this case was not permitted to have a headpiece. Not only the Evangelical but also the Roman Catholic Church-though the latter in less degree-is implicated in this confusion. The reawakening of a proper understanding for the nature of congregational worship and the right functions of the objects thereto instrumental within the interior of the church, led to spirited opposition against this juxtaposition of altar and pulpit. The custom of covering the front of the ambo with a cloth passed over to the pulpit, and has been maintained to this day. The pulpits or quasi-pulpits which occur as detached externals of churches, served either for the display of relics or for the delivery of addresses on special occasions. Sometimes they stand quite apart from any connection with the church edifice in the square of the church or in the cemetery.
In the Greek Church. The Greek Church has generally adhered to the simple ambo along the dividing line of the choir. Only in the larger churches, where stress is laid on the sermon, has there been progress in the development of pulpits; though even here their form still variously reflects the general style of the ambo.