• John-Michael Scurio

Why Is The Episcopal Church Door Red?


St. James Episcopal Church, 28 Prospect Ave, Eureka Springs, AR 72632

Historically, churches painted their doors red to signal those fleeing that they were places of sanctuary (thank King Ethelbert’s English law, circa 600 CE).


In this day and age, the world, as we know it, has changed. It is full of people who are looking for places to find peace, comfort and forgiveness.


Some call it tradition, others think it’s just a snappy-looking color.  But the deeper reason is the firm belief that these churches are places of refuge.


As in the case with many churches, Episcopal churches use red to let the world know what they’re about.

Red is the color of Christ’s blood. 

It is the symbol of the sacrifice of the martyrs.  It is the symbol of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Episcopalians like to think that red tells the world they are a safe, peaceful place.


Many people come to the Episcopal Church from other traditions and denominations in the belief that churches are not clubs for saints but hospitals for sinners. So, just as hospitals display a red cross, they use red doors to announce that we are a place of healing and restoration.  These parishes help the wounded put their lives back together and provide comfort in time of need. These doors are open wide to welcome all people in.


In the beginning of cathedral architecture, as it was believed that red stood for the Blood of Christ, red 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.

The First Church in Eureka Springs

The congregation of St. James’ Church was the first church congregation to be organized in Eureka Springs, Arkansas — just two years after the town was incorporated in 1883.


Organization occurred through the efforts of the Reverend J. J. Vaulx of Fayetteville, Arkansas, who held services once a month for several years. During this period, a frame chapel was built on Mountain Street. Regular organization was effected on September 15, 1887. The Rev. D. S. C. M. Potter, D. D., assumed charge of St. James’ on December 14, 1887.

Of course there are other explanations for why Episcopal Church doors are red. Some say it is a sign the mortgage is paid off.  Still others state the decision was made to make the church easy and visible to recognize.

Gatlinburg, TN

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 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. 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.


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, red doors are an invitation to visitors to enter a space filled with LOVE. Bright red doors shine with welcoming warmth. They gleam like fire and show the way to all who walk through them.

Other meanings:


WELCOME. In early American tradition, a red door symbolized to tired horse and buggy travelers that a home was a safe place to rest and stay.

REFUGE. During the civil war, “safe homes” that were part of the Underground Railroad supposedly painted their doors red to guide escaped slaves to places of refuge and safety.

MORTGAGE FREE. Tradition in Scotland holds that homeowners paint their front door red to signify that they had paid off their mortgage.

GOOD LUCK. Chinese consider red to be a lucky color and therefore many Chinese put a fresh coat of red paint on their front doors as part of their New Year celebration every year.

ENERGY. The principles of Feng Shui state that bold colors invite positive energy and that bold colors like red invite opportunities and abundance.

REMINDER. Although many claim Albert Einstein to be one of the most brilliant minds ever, he. too, had his blind spots. Allegedly, Einstein painted his front door red because he couldn’t remember which house was his.❤️

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