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The Culture of the Wends
By Alan Oakes, C.S.P.
In September of 1854, Pastor Johann Kilian and more than 500 Wendish immigrants left Hamburg, Germany to sail for Texas. Seventy- three members of the party died on the voyage. The community of the Wends sought out the religious freedom offered in Texas as well as cheap, plentiful land. The Wends have their own culture and language. The church they built in 1870 reflects their culture and heritage.
When first walking into Saint Paul’s, you might remark, “Wow! This church is a double-decker!” Saint Paul’s boasts the tallest pulpit in Texas. And it is placed in the upper level of the church.
Christians have used two levels for seating the congregation for centuries. In fact, one of the oldest churches in Rome has what was once called a “matrimonium” still intact. The custom was to seat mothers and children up in this balcony-like seating, while the men sat below. Saint Paul’s worked just the opposite. Men sat up in the balcony and women and children sat below.
Young people today might think it is strange that men and women sat apart, but it has been a custom since at least the 300 A.D. in Christian traditions. If you will recall, until recently, churches in Europe and the Americas were built to face East. Women sat on the north side of the church, where historically enemies of the Roman Empire came, while men sat on the south side of the church. Pulpits are many times placed on the north side of the church so that the Word may triumph over evil.
Old-timers who worshipped in the Catholic Painted Churches as well as the Lutheran Saint Paul’s remember men and women sitting apart until about the time of World War II. Today in all of the painted churches, there are no special rules for where men and women sit.
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