Illustrated Architecture Dictionary


A tall ornamental structure, usually ending in a spire and surmounting the tower of a church or other public building

A spire is a tall, acutely tapering  pyramidal structure sumounting a steeple or tower.

A tower is a building that is exceptionally high in proportion to its width and length.

Steeple Anatomy:
  • Spires may be square or octagonal, as determined by their lantern or belfry.
  • Lantern: Below the spire may be a lantern. They tend to be the most ornate section of any steeple.
  • Belfry: This section sits above the tower and houses the bell. The belfry may be open or enclosed by louvers, allowing the pealing of the bell to be heard.
  • Tower: The lowest steeple section that rises out of the buiding is the tower. If a steeple has clocks, they are usually in this section.
- Southgate Steplejacks (Online Dec. 2012)
A steeple, in architecture, is a tall tower on a building, often topped by a spire. Steeples are very common on Christian churches and cathedrals and the use of the term generally connotes a religious structure.

Clock towers were not a part of Christian churches until about AD 600, when they were adapted from military watchtowers. At first they were fairly modest and entirely separate structures from churches. Over time, they were incorporated into the church building and capped with ever-more-elaborate roofs until the steeple resulted.

- Wikipedia (Online Dec. 2012)
... why most steeples are white. In the early colonial days, metal was extremely hard to obtain and expensive; therefore, most steeples were made of wood and anything made of wood was immediately whitewashed. This is where we get the traditional white steeples seen atop the majority of churches. Most decorative cornice and trim around the church were also painted white for protective as well as decorative purposes.

Additionally, most of the larger churches did not want to have maintenance on the steeples. If they could afford copper, it was used on the spire and roof areas to eliminate any future maintenance ... Copper is considered to have a life expectancy of 70 to 100 years, depending on the region of the country and climatic conditions. When the cost is projected down through the life of the steeple, this longevity helps to offset the higher initial cost of copper.

Some steeples were used to house the bronze or steel church bell, and that section of the steeple is called the belfry. This area of the steeple would have louvers to emit the sound of the bell on all sides of the steeple, with louver blades tilted downward to help keep out rain. Bells were located in steeples, as this was the highest place on the church; this height helped the sound to travel a farther distance, floating out over the community. The bells were used as a call to worship, to ring the time of day in the community, as a wedding peal, and as a solemn funeral toll to mark the passing of a cherished member.

The steeple sometimes had windows that were normally fashioned in the design of the windows on the building below. The windows usually served no functional purpose, and were merely architectural. However, some churches illuminate this windowed section (or lantern) at night.

Steeples traditionally were topped with a cross, a weathervane, or a decorative finial. This usually served the aesthetic aspect, the spiritual aspect, and as a weather directional. But from a functional aspect, these also served as lightning terminals attached to lightning cables to properly direct a lightning strike safely to the ground below. These were usually painted black or white or given a gold leaf finish.

- Religious Product (Online Dec. 2012)

Examples from Buffalo architecture:

Other examples:

Photos and their arrangement 2004 Chuck LaChiusa
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