priedieu1The prie-dieu (singular) or prayer desk once seen in most Episcopal churches is becoming a rarer article these days.  Literally meaning “pray (to) God”, these items of convenience for prayers and devotions have been around for centuries-both as home furnishings for private prayers and also in chapels, in front of votive stands, at marriage ceremonies for the bride and groom to kneel upon, in front of shrines to saints, and in priests’ sacristies for prayer preparation before Mass.  Often today a long kneeler has taken the places of the wedding prie-dieux and real candle votive stands are on priedieu1830the wane.  Those electrified candles alas, aren’t quite the same thing! Still a staple in most Episcopal churches are kneelers in a hassock style, or pull-down hard kneelers on a wooden frame.

The prie-dieu to the left is from 1830.  Some prie-dieux look very like a chair with an elongated back with a padded top for missals, breviaries and prayer books to perch while kneeling.  Monastic prie-dieux have shelves for storage of materials needed during the many offices around the clock.  The Episcopal church, especially after WWII adopted the needlepoint kneeler in pews, and on prie-dieux kneelers and padded tops.  Trinity Church in Newport has an extraordinary collection of needlepoint kneelers and prie-dieux.  That of the rector’s wife, situated in front of the pulpit, is of needlepoint in a pale shade and features violets, the state priedieuroyalflower of Rhode Island.

Royalty, saints and even the Virgin Mary are often portrayed in art kneeling in pious attitudes on a prie-dieu.  Prie-dieux have been made of every possible material, in every style according to the current taste, elaborate, simple, decorated and plain. with all manner of upholstery and padding.  The prie-dieu of important persons have often survived to be preserved in museums. Simple, sturdy, and well-constructed ones have survived in humble convents and monasteries and are still in use. priedieuitalian1706

The amazing gilded prie-dieu to the right is from 1706 Italy and not surprisingly belonged to a lady of great rank and privilege.

priedieuoakA simple prie-dieu offered in a style still very affordable and obtainable through most church furnishing catalogues.  The kneeler would look well in needlepoint.

The famous architect, and decorative arts designer and artisan, Augustus Welby Pugin, (1812-1852) who created masterpieces of Gothic Revival style from jewelry to the Parliament buildings in London designed a prie-dieu which had everything included in one impressive design.