Image of a cherry red door with black metal appliances and silver door knob, door is set in a wall of light grey stone work. A black outdoor lantern is slightly obscured by trees hanging down from outside the image. A short paved path leads to the door and has two low shrubs on either side of the path.
Photo “DSC_0047 – The Red Door” by Tim CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Frequent travellers of the Guelph Downtown core will be familiar with the abundance of picturesque churches that the area boasts, and their striking red doors. Though unassuming, these doors connect their buildings to a much larger tradition dating back to Europe long before the early colonial settlements of Guelph.

A centuries-old practice, there is no single reason why church doors may be painted red, but there are many traditions associated with the vibrant choice. Two of the most common of these traditions used to explain point back to European legal history, and the history of the Christian church.

The first which links to European legal history, suggests that the tradition began during the period when in Europe the church was separate from secular law and thus arrests or violence were not permitted inside them. By their red doors, churches established a symbol of sanctuary and refuge from harm while also alluding to biblical connections to Passover and the Blood of Christ.

The second demonstrates a church’s intent to display its position as a church of the Reformation, as it is said that the Wittenburg Cathedral where Martin Luther posted his famous 95 theses had red doors.

By looking at how these traditions have been carried through to Guelph, we may be able to catch a glimpse through these doors at the viewpoints of early congregations of the city. Perhaps even, through these doors, we aren’t simply seeing only one tradition but a common symbol across many.

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