Glossary of Ecclesiastical Terms

Aisle

Area of church separated by an arcade of columns or piers.

Ambulatory

Semicircular or polygonal aisle which encloses an apse, often provided so that worshippers can walk round an altar or shrine.

Apse

Semicircular or polygonal end of a chancel or a chapel.

Arcade

A row of arches on columns or piers; where attached to a wall instead of free-standing it is a blind arcade.

Architrave

The horizontal block between columns or piers that spans the area between them.

Ashlar

Carefully dressed masonry.

Baluster

A small column or pillar, often, but not necessarily, wider in the centre than at the extremities. Also called a baluster shaft.

Barrow

A burial mound.

Basilica

Term originally used to describe a Roman town hall, but later to describe a rectangular hall-like building, normally with a roof supported by two or more arcades (ie aisled).

Beehive corbelling

A technique of producing a dome-like vault by oversailing courses of masonry. Frequently used for Celtic monastic cells.

Bellcote

A turret, usually at the W end of a church, to carry bells.

Boss

A stone projection or knob, often used to ornament the intersection of ribs in a vault.

Buttress

A mass of brickwork built against a wall to carry the thrust and provide strength.

Cable moulding

Moulding imitating twisted cord.

Capital

The head of a column.

Cell

A small chamber or room, often used of the small detached buildings that are found in Celtic monasteries.

Chamfer

Surface produced by cutting across a square angle of a block at 45 to the other surfaces.

Chancel

The area at the E end of the church in which the altar is usually located. Normally used to describe the area E of the crossing that continues the line of the nave. Often narrower than the nave. Chancel arch is the arch dividing the nave from the chancel.

Chevron

Zig-zag pattern, normally on carved moulding.

Clerestory

Upper storey of the nave walls of the church, lit by windows.

Corbel

Block of stone projecting from a wall, usually to support a beam, or some other feature.

Crypt

Underground room, usually at E end of church.

Curtain

A connecting wall between towers.

Cushion

capital

A capital cut from a square block with the low angles rounded off to the column below. Also called a block capital. Decorated Term used to describe a style of English Gothic architecture current c. 1300-50.

Drystone

Built without mortar.

Dyke

A bank, often used to describe a linear rampart. Early English Term used to describe a style of English Gothic architecture, roughly covering the period 1200-1300.

Gnomen

The metal (or wood) finger on a sun dial.

Graveslab

A tombstone intended for laying flat on a grave. Greek key Geometric pattern.

Grubenhaus

Sunken-floor hut popular in Britain and on the Continent in the pagan Saxon period, but continuing in use later.

Guilloche

Geometric pattern.

Herringbone

Type of masonry in which the stones are set in a zig-zag pattern.

Hogback

Type of tombstone in the form of the hipped roof of a shrine or church, which bears a superficial resemblance to a hog's back (the shingles looking like bristles).

Hood moulding

Projecting moulding above an arch or lintel, normally intended to throw off water (sometimes called dripstone)

Impost

Bracket in a wall, often moulded, on which the end of an arch rests.

Inhabited vinescroll

Type of ornament popular in Northumbria, in which birds and beasts are disposed in a panel of stylized vine ornament, often pecking or biting the fruit.

Impost

Bracket in a wall, often moulded, on which the end of an arch rests.

In situ

In its original position.

Interlace

A pattern made by intertwining a ribbon in and out of itself. Zoomorphic interlace is created when the ribbon takes the form of an animal's body.

Jamb

The straight side of a door, arch or window.

Lacertine

An animal with ribbon-like body used in zoomorphic interlace.

Leacht

An outdoor altar made from a pile of stones, normally square, which may mark a special grave.

Light

A window opening.

Lintel

A horizontal beam or stone bridging an opening.

Longhouse

A building with dwelling area and byre under the same roof-alignment, usually separated by a cross-passage. The commonest type of Viking house.

Manus Dei

Literally 'the hand of God'. Visual symbol in the form of a hand emanating from a cloud representing God.

Midwall shaft

A shaft dividing a window of two lights, which is placed exactly centrally in the wall.

Minster

The church in a monastery; a church of major importance in the region.

Monolithic

Made of one stone.

Narthex

Enclosed vestibule or covered porch at the entrance to a church.

Nave

The main body of the church.

Newel

Central post in a circular staircase.

Norman

Used in England as a synonym for 'Romanesque', it covers the style of architecture current between 1066-1200.

Ogham

A type of alphabet current in Ireland and in the Irish settlements in Britain in the Dark Ages, a variant of which was used by the Picts (see p. 44).

Oratory

A chapel without an altar.

Parapet

A low wall intended to protect a sudden drop, for example on a church or house top.

Pelta

A curvilinear shape, derived from that of a Roman shield.

Perpendicular

A style of English Gothic architecture current between c. 1350-1530.

Pier

A mass of stonework or brickwork, usually of square section, which serves as a support instead of a column.

Pilaster

A shallow pier attached to a wall.

Plinth

The projecting base of a wall or column. Pointed In English Gothic architecture, First Pointed is a style current in the Early English period.

Porticus

A side chapel or chapels. In the early Anglo-Saxon church it was not permitted for burials to be made in the body of the church, but they were allowed in the flanking chapels or porticus.

Quoin

The corner of a building; also used of the individual stones (dressed) making up the corner.

Rebate

A recess cut in wood or stone to take the edge of another member that is to be secured in it.

Relieving arch

An arch constructed above a door or window to take the thrust of the masonry. Renaissance The first period of classical revival, usually taken to begin c. 1453. Architecture influenced by it.

Respond

Half-pier bonded into a wall and carrying one end of an arch.

Reveal

The part of the jamb which lies between the door (or glass, in a window) and the outer wall surface.

Revetment

A facing of stone or timber in a rampart to stop it collapsing or eroding.

Ring-chain

A type of ornament popular in Anglo-Danish times.

Ringwork

A type of circular earthwork consisting of rampart and external ditch broken by an entrance. Constructed mainly by the Normans in Britain. Romanesque In England called Norman, a style of architecture influenced by the Roman. Current in the eleventh to twelfth centuries. Some Anglo-Saxon architecture is called, misleadingly, pre-Conquest Romanesque.

Rood

Cross or Crucifix.

Rune

Alphabet of twig-like signs used by both the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings. Variant forms exist.

Scalloped

capital Type of capital in which the semi-circular surface is carved into a series of truncated cones.

School

A term used in art history to denote a group of artists working in a similar style or tradition.

Screen

A partition (of stone or wood). A rood screen was at the western end of the chancel, below a rood. A 'parclose screen' separated the rest of the church from a chapel.

Scriptorium

A place where manuscripts were copied.

Shrine

A structure of stone or metal in which a relic of a saint was placed.

Splay

A chamfer, usually on the jamb of a window.

Spindle whorl

A round weight, used to make the spindle revolve more readily and smoothly in spinning with a hand distaflf.

Squint

A hole cut in a wall or pier to allow the main altar to be viewed from where it otherwise could not be seen.

String course

A projecting band or moulding set horizontally in a wall.

Transept

Transverse portion of a cruciform church.

Tread

The flat part of a step.

Tympanum

The space between the lintel of a doorway and the arch above it. Often sculptured.

Unicameral

Single-roomed or -celled.

Vallum

A bank. Used to describe the enclosure bank of an early Christian church or monastery.

Volute

Spiral scroll.

Voussoir

Wedge-shaped stone used in an arch.

Abbot's Lodging

Rooms set aside for use by the abbot.

Aisle

A section of the church parallel to the choir or nave, and divided from it by an arcade.

Apse

A semicircular termination to the chancel, chapel or aisle.

Arcade

A row of arches.

Aumbrey

A recess in a wall which could serve as a cupboard.

Bay

Section of a building between columns or buttresses.

Buttress

A projection from a wall to help support particular loads especially side thrusts from roofs.

Cell

A small room or hut for one person.

Chancel

Eastern part of the church in which the altar stands.

Chapel

A small section of the church, or a small building having its own altar.

Chapter house

A building attached to the monastery in which the monks met to discuss the affairs of the monastery.

Choir

Structurally that part of the church in which singers have their place often inaccurately used for eastern arm.

Claustral buildings

Pertaining to the cloister.

Clerestory

Part of the church wall above the triforium or arcade usually containing windows.

Cloister

A covered passage around a quadrangle at the side of the church.

Crossing

Part of a church where the transepts cross the nave.

Crypt

Area underneath a church.

Decorated

Term applied to style of English Gothic architecture c. 1275-1340, in which there was an increasing use of decoration.

Dorter

Monastic dormitory.

Early English

Term applied to the first part of the Gothic style of architecture which flourished c. 1180-1275.

Frater

Monastic refectory or dining hall.

Garderobe

Individual lavatory or privy.

Gatehouse

A building at the entrance to the monastic grounds.

Guesthouse

Buildings set aside for visitors to the monastery.

Gothic

A style of architecture which flourished in Western Europe between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries. In England it included Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular styles.

Infirmary

Hospital.

Infirmary Kitchen

Kitchen attached to the hospital.

Kitchen

The room in which the cooking was done. There could be three in a monastery. One attached to the monks frater, one in the abbot's lodging and one attached to the Infirmary.

Single, slender, tall, pointed window in twelfth and thirteenth century Gothic architecture.

Lavatory / Lavatorium

Trough where monks washed hands before meals.

Lay-brothers' dorter

Dormitory for lay-brothers.

Lay-brothers' frater

Dining room for lay-brothers.

Lights

A sub division of a multiple window.

Lintel

Horizontal wood or stone over a fireplace, door, etc.

Misericord

Decorated shelf placed on the under side of hinged seat in choir stall, to provide support against which to lean while standing.

Misericorde

Additional monastic refectory in which special food was permitted.

Narthex

Western compartment of church.

Vestibule across the west end of the church .

Nave

Main body of church, normally west of sanctuary, transept and choir.

Norman

Style of architecture developed by the Normans which flourished in England after the Norman conquest to about 1200.

Perpendicular

Style of English Gothic architecture which flourished in England c. 1350-1550.

Piers

Mass of upright masonry supporting arches, a pillar.

Pinnacle

A small turret at the upward termination of a buttress, wall or roof, etc.

Presbytery

Part of the church around the high altar to the east of the choir.

Prior's Lodging

Rooms set aside for use of the prior.

Range

Block of buildings.

Reredorter

Annex to monastic dormitory containing garderobes or latrines.

Romanesque

Style of architecture which was prevalant in Western Europe c. 950 - 1150. In England it was known as Norman .

Rose Window

Circular window with radiating tracery resembling spokes in a wheel.

Sacristy

Room close to an altar where sacred vessels and vestments were kept.

Scriptorium

Room in which scribes did their writing and copying of manuscripts.

Solar

Upper living room in a medieval building.

Squint

A hole through a pier or wall so that the high altar could be seen from a place where otherwise the view would be blocked.

String course

Projecting horizontal length of masonry.

Tower

A tall structure generally set above the crossing of the church or the west front.

Tracery

Decorative open patterns in the stonework at the heads of Gothic windows, etc.

Transept

Cross arm of a cruciform church, normally running N-S.

Transitional

A period of architecture which marked the period between the Norman and Gothic styles when both were inter mingling. Late twelfth to early thirteenth centuries.

Trefoil

A cusped decoration of three lobes.

Triforium

A gallery between the-arcade and the clerestory.

Undercroft

Basement of a building.

Vault

An arched, stone roof.

Warming house

A communal room in the monastery where a fire was allowed.

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