A pulpit is a raised stand for preachers in a Christian church. The origin of the word is the Latin pulpitum (platform or staging). The traditional pulpit is raised well above the surrounding floor for audibility and visibility, accessed by steps, with sides coming to about waist height. From the late medieval period onwards, pulpits have often had a canopy known as the sounding board, tester or abat-voix above and sometimes also behind the speaker, normally in wood. Though sometimes highly decorated, this is not purely decorative, but can have a useful acoustic effect in projecting the preacher's voice to the congregation below. Most pulpits have one or more book-stands for the preacher to rest his or her bible, notes or texts upon.
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The pulpit is generally reserved for clergy. This is mandated in the regulations of the Catholic Church, and several others (though not always strictly observed). Even in Welsh Nonconformism, this was felt appropriate, and in some chapels a second pulpit was built opposite the main one for lay exhortations, testimonials and other speeches. Many churches have a second, smaller stand called the lectern, which can be used by lay persons, and is often used for all the readings and ordinary announcements. The traditional Catholic location of the pulpit to the side of the chancel or nave has been generally retained by Anglicans and some Protestant denominations, while in Presbyterian and Evangelical churches the pulpit has often replaced the altar at the centre.
Equivalent platforms for speakers are the bema (bima, bimah) of ancient Greece and Jewish synagogues, and the minbar of Islamic mosques. From the pulpit is often used synecdochically for something which is said with official church authority.