The History of the Red Door

Why do all Episcopal church's have a red door?

Why are the doors of most Episcopal churches painted red?

Turns out, there is no definitive answer, and the question has been posed many times. The tradition is centuries old and has several meanings associated with it. No matter the meaning, many older Protestant churches have distinctive red doors, and when you’re visiting a new city, like Gatlinburg, you can readily identify the Episcopal Church because it’s the one with the red doors.

The tradition of red doors originated in England during the Middle Ages when it was a sign of sanctuary. If you were being pursued by someone, you would be safe if you could reach the church door. No one would dare commit violence on holy ground; furthermore, the Church didn’t have to abide by civil law. Pursuers could proceed no further, and victims knew that the red doors meant sanctuary, refuge, and safety. The person who claimed sanctuary like this could state his case to the priest and ask for justice to be served. The red doors also represented protection from spiritual evil as well. In the beginnings of cathedral architecture, red stood for the Blood of Christ, and it was painted on the north, south, and east doors of a church. In other words, they were making “the sign of the cross” which ultimately marked the church as a safety zone from spiritual dangers in addition to protection from physical harm.

Other meanings for red doors through the ages include red being a reminder of the Passover and God’s covenant with the Israelites. Red is also a symbol for the sacrificial blood of Christ, our entry into salvation. It is also indicative of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Wittenberg Cathedral is believed to have had red doors, the church where Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, so red may symbolize a church of the Reformation. Other stories go that if church doors were painted red, it meant their mortgage was paid off.

Today many Episcopal churches, as well as Lutheran, Methodist, Roman Catholic and others, paint their doors red to symbolize that they are a haven for emotional and spiritual healing and a place for forgiveness and reconciliation. In other words, their red doors are an invitation to visitors to enter a space filled with the Holy Spirit. Bright red doors shine with welcoming warmth. They gleam like fire and show the way to the Holy Spirit to all who walk through them.

This is your official “red” invitation to walk through the doors at Trinity Gatlinburg!

Elaine Conger, Music Director