architectural question

As you know, all the furniture that’s really required in a Protestant church building is:

1) somewhere for the preacher to preach from;

2) somewhere for the listeners to listen from

– and for convenience, these items usually consist of a pulpit and some pews. The four walls, of course, are merely to keep off the elements, and certainly not to be decorated with distractions of any sort!

However, here’s a question. There’s a term that people use to refer to the area around the pulpit, plus or minus the precentor’s box, where the elders might sit in some congregations. I’ve only heard it being spoken, and can’t recall ever seeing it written. In IPA, it’s [ˈletrən], or in amateurish Scottish ‘sound-as-it’s-spelled’, “lay-tron”.

Does anyone know the proper spelling for this word?

4 thoughts on “architectural question

  1. Yes. A tip-off from someone else also suggests that this word is somehow related to lectern, although in this particular usage it refers to the area around the lectern. Lectern could also be the pulpit itself i suppose.

    It also depends on the layout of the church – in this specific case it’s the Gilmore Place church, if you can think of it, referring to the area at the front which is slightly raised, and has space for the precentor’s seat, the baptismal bowl, and several chairs (6? 8?) where apparently the elders used to sit, in the olden days.

    I wonder if this term is even familiar to anyone else, outside the older generations of this particular congregation, or the city, or what?


  2. According to the Concise Scots Dictionary:

    lettern, lettroun, lattround, letterin(g), lateron: 1. a lectern. 2. the desk of the reader or precentor in post-Reformation churches. 3. a reading or writing desk in a private house. 4. a lawyer’s desk; ‘go/be put to the ~’ – pursue legal studies. [ME letrune, OF lettrun, a reading desk]

    Various other entries in the CSD (lattroun, lettroun, etc) refer back to this headword ‘lettern’

    The pronunciation given in the CSD indicates that the first vowel is either “a” as in “cat” or “eh” as in “red” but these are, if not unreliable, at least not exhaustive.

    There’s also this from the OED for lectern:
    d. Sc. (in form lateran). The precentor’s desk in a Scotch Presbyterian church.
    1860 RAMSAY Remin. Ser. I. 208 What is commonly called the Lateran; a kind of small gallery at the top of the pulpit steps.
    Forms: {alpha} . 4-5 lettorne, 5 leteron(e, -vn, letteroun, letrone, -une, leyterne, letyrn, 5-7 lettron, 6 lettrone, -une, letteron, -ane, litterne, letaring, 6-8 latron(e, 6-7, 9 lettern, 7 lettren, Sc. lettering, 9 Sc. lateran, lattern. {beta} . 5 lectrone, -un, 5-6 lectron, -yne, 5-7 lectorn(e, 6 lecteron, -erne, -urne, 9 lecturn, 6, 9 lectern. {gamma} . 6 lecter, lector, lettour.

    All indicating that the spelling may not be especially firmly fixed.


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