As I understand it, the early church began in homes but then at some point (it's another question) started meeting together in larger meetings.

My question is: did men and women sit together from the start or were they initially influenced by (separate seating arrangements of) the Synagogue? If not, how did it come to be a regular practice?

  • Possibly the answer to this might help explain Paul's statement about women remaining silent. Apr 1, 2012 at 13:08
  • In some modern churches, men and women still don't sit together. I guess I've always had the opposite question: How did segregation start? :)
    – Flimzy
    Jun 6, 2012 at 19:19

2 Answers 2


According to this source, women were not even allowed to be taught the Torah publicly in the Jewish faith, so they were not able to even sit in the same area as the men who were taught from the scriptures.

Restrictions applied to any public reading of Scripture in the Synagogue (Megillot 73a) and they were unable to pronounce the benediction after a meal in the home (Mishna Bereshit 7:2).... This was practiced in the Second Temple period of Jesus’ time and in synagogues afterwards; they were separated from men in the service. This practice is continued today among Orthodox Jews. Although today in most areas of Judaism (the reform side) much of this has changed considerably.

It is clear that Jesus challenged this trend in His public ministry. Even still, by the fourth century it appears that men and women were separated in churches, as St. Cyril of Jerusalem says,

Let men be with men, and women with women. For now I need the example of Noah’s ark: in which were Noah and his sons, and his wife and his sons’ wives. For though the ark was one, and the door was shut, yet had things been suitably arranged. If the Church is shut, and you are all inside, yet let there be a separation, men with men, and women with women : lest the pretext of salvation become an occasion of destruction. Even if there be a fair pretext for sitting near each other, let passions be put away. Further, let the men when sitting have a useful book; and let one read, and another listen: and if there be no book, let one pray, and another speak something useful. And again let the party of young women sit together in like manner, either singing or reading quietly, so that their lips speak, but others’ ears catch not the sound: for I suffer not a woman to speak in the Church. And let the married woman also follow the same example, and pray; and let her lips move, but her voice be unheard, that a Samuel may come, and your barren soul give birth to the salvation of God who has heard your prayer; for this is the interpretation of the name Samuel (Protocatechesis, 14, NPNF, s. 2, v.7).

It is unclear if St. Cyril was instituting a new practice or affirming an existing one. It should be noted that many Coptic Orthodox continue the practice of sitting on separate sides of the church to this day. Many Anabaptists also have followed this practice. Various cultures practice this also. Some old churches still have matroneums from when this was practiced.

It should be kept in mind that the early Church suffered intense persecution until the Edict of Milan issued early in the 4th century under Constantine. It wasn't until this time that Christians were even able to construct buildings that were considered to be "churches." Prior to that, churches were assemblies (ecclesiae) of believers who gathered in homes to avoid being killed for their faith.

  • 1
    I find your first quotation interesting but not directly relevant to the subject. The second is more relevant, but does not yet give an answer, rather it hints at one. Your last two paragraphs (your own words) are most helpful, to me, particularly your reminder that in some parts of the world men and women still sit separately in churches. Apr 13, 2012 at 18:45
  • 2
    I probably should have summarized the main things I was trying to pull out from the first point, but I admittedly answered in a hurry. I will edit the response to try to make this clearer.
    – Dan
    Apr 15, 2012 at 23:25
  • 1
    This is better, thank you. But I don't think it answers the questions of when men and women started sitting together; it seems to be confirming that by the fourth century they were (probably) still separated. Apr 16, 2012 at 5:21
  • 1
    I understand, and I probably wouldn't accept it either ;)
    – Dan
    Apr 19, 2012 at 2:21
  • 1
    No problem, I appreciate it. Maybe someone else will ring in at some point in the future. Search engines might lead someone here who knows when....
    – Dan
    Jun 12, 2012 at 19:05

Some history from EWTN:

The 1917 Code of Canon Law. canon 1262, stated,

  1. It is desirable that, consistent with ancient discipline, women be separated from men in church.

but then (sadly IMO)

When the 1983 Code of Canon Law was promulgated this canon was not re-issued; indeed, canon 6, 1, abrogated it, along with every other canon of the 1917 Code not intentionally incorporated into the new legislation.

Canon 6 1. When this Code goes into effect, the following are abrogated: (1) the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917;


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