Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

(From the Anglo-Saxon word spir , meaning "a stalk" or "shoot").

A tapering construction -- in plan conical, pyramidal, octagonal, or hexagonal -- crowning a steeple or tower, or surmounting a building, and usually developed from the cornice ; often pierced by ornamental openings and, where there were ribs, enriched with crockets. Sometimes an open lantern was interposed between the steeple, tower, or roof and the spire. On the continent the architects aimed to make the steeple and spire one, merging them into each other, while in England they openly confessed it was a separate structure by masking its point of origin behind a plain or pierced parapet, or ornamental battlements. A spire properly belongs to Pointed architecture and hence has never been fully developed except in Gothic buildings. As early as the twelfth century they took on different forms, and almost everywhere, from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, became the terminating construction of every church steeple, tower, or lantern, and also those of secular buildings, more especially in Germany and France. Their decorative value was very great, more particularly in varying and enriching the sky-line of the buildings which they crowned, and by the numerous variations of forms and variety of types employed. These forms from such simple examples as that surmounting the south tower of Chartres Cathedral to that of Burgos, where the whole structure is an openwork of tracery. In England Norman churches were without spires, but with the coming in of Early English short ones were introduced; Decorated Gothic called for much higher ones, and the Perpendicular still higher. The earlier spires were generally built of timber, and they were always so when the building was roofed with wood.

These early timber spires were, as a rule, not very tall, but later they reached a greater elevation; that which crowned old St. Paul's in London is said to have been 527 feet in height. The most lofty spires now in existence -- such as those of Salisbury, Coventry, and Norwich -- are all of stone. In Central England there are many, and in fact wherever suitable stone was easily obtainable. In the north of England, however, in Scotland, and in Wales among the mountains the bell-gable takes the place of a spire, no doubt because the large area of the thinly populated parishes made it necessary to keep the bells uncovered, so that they might be more widely heard. The most beautiful examples of existing spires are to be seen at Chartres, Reims, Laon, Freiburg, Ratisbon, cologne, Antwerp, Vienna, Burgos, and Salisbury. On some of these buildings there are several spires, in many instances built at different periods: the south spire of Chartres, culminating in a pinnacle 350 feet above the ground, was erected in 1175, while the north spire, with its apex 380 feet above the ground, was not finished until 1513. The so-called spires of the Renaissance and those built by Sir Christopher Wren are not true spires, but merely steeples terminating in a point.

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
12 for the Lord is a judge who is utterly impartial.13 He ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23
2 I will praise Yahweh from my heart; let the humble hear and ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 18:9-14
9 He spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on ... Read More

Reading 2, Second Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
6 As for me, my life is already being poured away as a libation, and the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 23rd, 2016 Image

St. John of Capistrano
October 23: St. John was born at Capistrano, Italy in 1385, ... Read More