Glossary of Church Architecture

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Aisle An extension to the side of the nave or chancel separated off by an arcade. Sometime used for the passageways between the seating. See Alley.

Alley
The passageways between blocks of pews.

Altar
The ceremonial table at which the Eucharist (Mass, Holy Communion) is celebrated. May be made of wood or stone.

Altar-piece
A piece of art placed on the wall behind the altar (see Reredos) In the 18th century, these took the form of large classical-style screens.

Altar frontal
A cloth or embroidery hanging for decorating the front of the altar.

Apex
The apex of an arch is its highest point.

Arcade
A series of arches like a pierced wall, separating off an area. See  Wall Arcade or Blind Arcade

Aumbry
A cupboard. In the Middle Ages used to store the communion vessels. Since 1900, in some churches, used for keeping the reserved sacrament. See Tabernacle.

Arch Braced Roof Curved pair of roof braces forming an arch which connect the wall (or post) below with tie beam or collar beam above.

Ashlar  Thin slabs of freestone used as facing

Baldachino A canopy over the altar, supported on columns, sometimes called a ciborium.

Barrel Vault
. Form of vault  made up of continuous semicircular or pointed arch.

Battlemented Parapet A parapet with crenellations or battlements i.e with alternate raised or lowered sections. May be called crenellated or castellated.

Bay
a division of a church or roof, usually marked by arcade arches or roof trusses.

Beam
Long thick piece of wood or metal or concrete, etc., used in construction .See Tie Beam & Collar Beam.

Belfry A room or structure in which bells are hung, usually part of a church tower.

Blind or Wall Arcade An arcade built flat against a wall, as a decorative feature.

Blind Tracery Tracery applied to a solid wall.

Boss An ornamental knob covering the intersection of ribs in a vault or on a ceiling.

Box-pew The true pew. Surrounded by wooden panelling, and with a lockable door. Abbreviation for Horse Box Pew.

Box- tomb
 A chest-style monument. The interior is a hollow cavity, and the body is buried underground. May also be called a chest tomb.

Brace
A supporting beam that steadies or holds something else erect.

Broken pediment
a pediment where the apex is missing.

Buttress Masonry built against a wall to give extra strength, and to distribute the downward thrust. See Flying Buttress.    

Candelabrum
Large branched candlestick. May be free-standing or hung from the roof.

Capitals The head of a column, pillar, or pilaster. The form of the capital is often a good guide to its date

Castellated Parapet A parapet with crenellations or battlements i.e with alternate raised or lowered sections. May be called battlemented or crenellated.

Chancel The part of the church at the east end, where the altar stands and where the clergy sit.

Chancel Screen A screen dividing the chancel from the nave – another term for Rood Screen.

Chantry chapel A chapel in which masses were said for the soul of its founder.

Chapel
(side-chapel) An area of a church with its own altar, originally for the cult of a saint other than the patron saint. Maybe an extension, or simply screened off with parcloses.

Chest Tomb
Chest shaped tomb usually of stone. May also be called a box tomb

Choir Stalls
Seating running east-west in the chancel or crossing, where the choir sits.

Ciborium
(1) Another name for baldachino; (2) a chalice-like vessel with a lid, used for the bread at the Eucharist.

Clerestorey
Upper storey of the nave wall rising above the aisle roof.  Pierced by windows to light the nave.May also be found in the chancel

Collar Beam A structure component to prevent roof spreading by tying together opposing sets of roof rafters. See Beam.

Communion Rails
Rails in front of the altar at which the congregation kneels to receive communion. First introduced in the 16th century.

Corbel
Block of stone bonded into a wall either inside or out, supporting the end of a beam, or a statue.

Corbel Table
Series of corbels, just below the roof eaves. Used to carry a parapet, a wall plate or wall post.

Course
Continuous layer in a wall e.g. layer of stones. See String Course & Zigzag Course

Crenellated Parapet A parapet with crenellations or battlements i.e with alternate raised or lowered sections. May be called battlemented or castellated.

Crossing
The area in the centre of a cruciform church, where the east-west and north-south arms cross.

Cruciform
Cross shaped, often of a church floor plan.

Cusps
pointed projections in window tracery or in arches.

Decalogue The ten commandments

Decorated
When capitalised, Decorated refers to a style of architecture dating from the late 13th to the mid 14th Century, characterised by elaborate window tracery and tall columns. Represents the middle of the Gothic period

Dormer
(window) A form of window ‘pushed up’ through the roof line to bring extra light into the top of a building.

Early English
An architectural style dating from the late 12th to the late 13th  century, characterised by the earliest use of pointed arches and representing the beginning of the Gothic period

Fan Vault
Form of vault made up of halved concave masonry cones decorated with blind tracery.

Flushwork
Decorative patterns in flint flat against limestone, brick or carrstone, used to decorate the outside of some churches

Flying Buttress A buttress which stands away from its building, and is attached to it by a ‘bridge’.

Font Container used for the consecrated water used in baptism

Freestone  Stone which can be easily worked, usually oolitic limestone, or sandstone. It has a fine grain, and may be 'freely worked' with metal tools. Thin slabs of freestone used as facing are called Ashlar.

Gallery
Balcony overlooking the main interior space of a building. Usually at the west end of a church, but some occur in the side-aisles. Generally put up in the 16th to 18th centuries, and removed in the late 19th.

Galletting
Small pieces of flint inserted into the mortar between the large flints.

Gargoyle A projecting stone, ususally carved in a grotesque manner, which throws rainwater away from the walls and footings of a church

Gothic
Art, architecture or decoration styles dating from after the Norman period but before the renaissance.

Gothick
 An 18th century revival version of the medieval gothic style,sometimes called Strawberry Hill Gothic. It predates the 19th century Gothic Revival style.

Gothic Revival A 19th century revival version of the medieval Gothic style. Sometimes called Victorian Gothic. Dates from approximately 1840 to WW1.

Grotesque Decoration which either interweaves human and animal form with vegetation, or consists of a comically distorted face

Gradine
A shelf behind the altar, usually part of the reredos, on which the cross and candlesticks stand.

Hagioscope In a wall usually to allow sight of the altar. Also called Squint

Hammerbeam  An abbreviated tie-beam

Hatchment A diamond shaped panel showing the coat of arms of a deceased person. Often displayed high on the church wall

Headstop A carving at the end of a hood mould, often taking the form of a head.

High Altar The main altar in a church at which the Eucharist (Mass, Holy Communion) is celebrated. May be made of wood or stone.

Hood mould Projecting moulding above an arch or lintel used to throw off water.

Horse Box-pew The true pew. Surrounded by wooden panelling, and with a lockable door. May be abbreviated to Box Pew.

Incumbent
The cleric in charge of a church. May be called Rector, Vicar, or Priest-in-Charge.

Knapped Flints Flints which have been broken open to expose the dark interior, and then cut to shape e.g they may be squared.

Lectern A desk from which readings are given. Often take the form of a brass eagle.

Lierne Vault  A form of tierceron vault with subsidiary ribs (liernes) running between the tiercerons and main ribs, making patterns

Light A vertical division of a window.

Long-and-short work
A method of forming quoins by placing long narrow blocks of stone alternately with thin wide ones. Characteristic of Anglo-Saxon style masonry.

Misericord
Shelf on a carved bracket placed on the underside of a hinged choir stall seat. Supports an occupant when standing. Often bears interesting carvings.

Mullion
The upright in a window; divides the window into a number of lights.

Narthex  An area at the west end of the nave.

Nave The main body of the church, where the congregation sits.

Ogee or Ogive
A double S-shaped curve. Used as an arch form in the 14th century. See Reticulated.

Orientation
A church is assumed to have its altar at the east end. Most deviate from true east to some degree north or south.

Parapet
A raised rim around the edge of a roof. See Castellated Parapet, Battlemented Parapet or Crenellated Parapet.

Parclose screen
A screen that encloses a side chapel within the church.

Patron
(1) The patron saint of a church; (2) the person or corporation with the right to appoint the incumbent.

Parvise The room over a porch.

Pediment
A triangular or sometime curved head to panelling – used in 18th century altar-pieces. See Broken Pediment.

Perpendicular
An architectural style dating from the mid 14th to the late 16th century, characterised by mullions reaching to the top of windows, and by the development of fan
vaulting
. Represents the last part of the Gothic period.

Pews
Seating for the laity outside the chancel. What are usually called ‘pews’ are in fact benches. See Box Pew and Reading Pew.

Piers Another name for pillar.

Pilaster
Very shallow buttress, which has no structural use; it articulates the building on the outside.

Pinnacles
Projecting points at the corners of a tower, or along a parapet, or topping off a buttress.

Piscina
Recess in the wall near an altar, with a drain, for washing the communion vessels.

Plinth
A solid base on which something stands.

Porch
Covered approach to entrance of building; in the Middle Ages used for weddings.

Pulpit
A structure for the Priest to speak from, raised above the congregation.See Three-Decker-Pulpit.

Pyx A vessel for the consecrated bread. In mediaeval English churches, a pyx hanging over the altar was used for the reserved sacrament.

Quatrefoil A four lobed shape.

Quoins
Stones forming the external angles of a wall.

Rafters
The main structural timbers in a roof. are called principal rafters. The ones which fill gaps between are the common rafters.

Reading Pew or Desk A seat with a desk from which the service is read, usually in the nave.

Reredos
A screen or decoration behind the altar in a church, usually containing religious images. Often painted wood, but may be carved, gilded, etc. Sometimes a tapestry, or other fabric is used.

Reserved sacrament
The bread consecrated at the Eucharist, and kept for use with the sick.

Reticulated A net- like form of of tracery made up of ogees.

Return Stalls Stalls in the chancel which run along the back of the screen facing east.

Rib Vault A vault in which the sections are marked out by raised stone ribs.

Romanesque
The architecture of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman styles, c600-c1100.

Rood
The crucifix at the entrance to the chancel. Usually stood on a beam, with attendant figures of St Mary and St John. Some modern versions are suspended, especially where there is no screen.

Rood Dado
The solid bottom half of the Rood Screen, occasionally surviving alone after the rest is removed.

Rood Loft
A gallery at the top of the rood screen, used for access to the lamps burning before the Rood. Sometimes used for parts of the liturgy.

Rood Screen
A screen dividing the Nave from the Chancel, topped with a Rood.

Rood Stair
A stair for access to the Rood Loft.

Rood Stair Turret Contains the stair to the Rood Loft .

Sanctuary
Area around the main altar of the church, within the communion rails.

Screen
A pierced barrier, often carved wood, dividing a space but allowing vision through to another area.

Sedilia
A set of one to three recesses in the chancel wall, used as seats for the clergy during Mass.

Side Altar
An altar in a side chapel

Sound Hole A square stone pierced with tracery . Supposed to let the sound of the bells out, but actually to ventilate the chamber below the belfry.

Spandrel The space between an arch and its surround. In a roof,  the space between a brace and a rafter

Springings
The springing of an arch is the point where it leaves the pillar or wall.

Squint
A hole in a wall usually to allow sight of the altar. Also called Hagioscope

Strapwork  A form of decoration which originated in the Netherlands c1540, and characteristic of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. It consists of interlaced bands or straps, and may be executed in stone, wood, or plaster

String Course
Horizontal course or moulding projecting from the surface of a wall.

Tabernacle
A box to hold the reserved sacrament, which stands on the altar. See Aumbry.

Tester A flat, horizontal canopy. May be above an altar, or over a pulpit, when it is called a sounding-board.

Three-decker pulpit
A structure combining a pulpit, a reading-pew, and the clerk’s desk.

Tie Beam
A horizontal beam used to prevent two other structural members from spreading apart. See Hammerbeam.

Tierceron Vault A rib vault with subsidiary (tierceron)ribs.

Tracery
Openwork pattern of masonry or wood in the upper part of an opening e.g window or screen. See Blind Tracery , Y-Tracery , Reticulated .

Transept
Part of a church built at right-angles to the main structure. May be added to an existing church, or be part of a cruciform building.

Trefoil A three lobed shape.

Truss
Supporting structure or framework.

Turret A small tower. In parish churches they often contain staircases.

Vault
(1) Arched stone roof ; (2) a burial chamber. See Barrel Vault, Fan Vault, Rib Vault ,Tierceron Vault

Vestry A room in which vestments are kept, but also used for most parish business

Victorian Gothic A 19th century revival version of the medieval Gothic style. Sometimes called Gothic Revival. Dates from approximately 1840 to WW1.

Wall or Blind Arcade
An arcade built flat against a wall, as a decorative feature

 Y-Tracery Tracery with mullions branching into a Y shape

Zigzag Course
Course with abrupt alternate right and left turns

For more in-depth information please refer to our Bibilography page.
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All Saints Westlegate St. George Tombland St. Julian St. Michael at Plea
St. Andrew St. Giles St. Lawrence St. Peter Hungate
St. Augustine St. Gregory St. Margaret St. Peter Mancroft
St. Benedict St. Helen St. Martin at Oak St. Peter Parmentergate
St. Clement St. James Pockthorpe St. Martin at Palace Plain St. Saviour
St. Edmund Fishergate St. John de Sepulchre St. Mary Coslany St. Simon & St. Jude
St. Etheldreda St. John Maddermarket St. Mary the Less St. Stephen
St. George Colegate St. John Timberhill St. Michael(Miles) Coslany St. Swithin