English Term
Explanation Example


Abacus Flat slab, which forms the top of a capital on a column or pilaster
Abbey Ecclesiastical dwelling, church, for the use of nuns or monks and presided over by an abbess or abbot
Acanthus Classical formalized leaf ornament, representing the leaf of Acanthus spinosus, found on the lower parts of Corinthian and Composite capitals, also used as enrichment in Classical architecture
Acroterium A pedestal for a sculpture or ornament at the apex or at each of the lower corners of a pediment
Ad quadratum Design based on the geometry of the square
Aisle Subsidiary space alongside the body of a building, separated from it by columns, piers or posts
Aisleless church / Single-nave(d) church Church with an undivided nave
Altar Flat-topped wooden or stone table for the eucharist
Altar bread Consecrated wafer used for the Eucharist
Altar frontal Richly decorated material which covers the front of the altar
Altar rails Structure with gates, usually across the chancel in front of the altar. Sometimes the rails enclose the altar on three or four sides. They date from Elizabethan times and became popular in the 17th century as an alternative to chancel screens
See: Reredos
Ambo Raised platform or pulpit
Ambulatory Semicircular or polygonal aisle enclosing an apse
Anabaptists Christian movement which traces its origins to the Radical Reformation, Anabaptists believe that baptism is valid only when the candidate confesses his or her faith in Christ and wants to be baptized. Today the Mennonites are Anabaptists
Apex stone Top stone in a gable end
Apse Semicircular or polygonal end of a chancel or chapel
Apse tower Tower over the apse
Arcade Range of arches supported on piers or columns, free-standing; or, blind arcade, the same attached to the wall
Architrave Main beam resting on the uppermost member of a capital or the moulding arches, doorways or windows
Archivolt Decorative moulding, which follows the contour of an arch face impost to impost
Arma Christi Images that depict the various instruments and weapons that wounded or otherwise offended Christ during the Passion and Crucifixion
Ashlar A squared building stone finely dressed on all faces adjacent to those to other stones so as to permit thin mortar joints
Atrium / Paradise Covered colonnade before the door of a church
Auditory church A one room design, in which altar and pulpit are both visible; in Lutheranism altar, pulpit and font (“Prinzipalstücke” [principal pieces]) are gathered in front of the congregation


Ban on images The Bible, Ex 20,4-5 (KJV): Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them:
Baptistery Separate building, specifically designed for baptism
Bargeboard / Vergeboard Board, often carved, attached to the projecting end of a gable roof
Barrel vault A vault having a semicircular cross section
Basilica Aisled church with a clerestory built on a double colonnade and apse plan
Bay Internal compartments of a building; each divided from the other not by solid walls but by division only marked in the side walls (columns, pilatsters, etc) or the ceiling (beams, etc)
Blind arcade A series of arches superimposed on a wall for decoration
Blind arch Arches attached to a wall in order to strengthen or decorate it
Block capital / Cushion capital Romanesque capital cut from a cube by having the lower angles rounded off to the circular shaft below
Book of Revelation Apocalypse (of John) is the last book of the New Testament
Box pews Seats for the congregation like tall wooden boxes with doors to them
Brick A masonry unit of clay, formed into a rectangular prism while plastic and hardened by drying in the sun or firing in a kiln
Bulbous dome A sort of onion dome


Calvary / Golgotha (Lat. Place of a skull, hebr. Golgotha), site immediately outside Jerusalem's walls where Jesus was crucified, also burial place of Adam's skull; depiction of Christ on the cross usually with other figures like Mary and John
Campanile Isolated bell tower, separate or partially so from the main body of the church
Capital Head or top part of a column or pilaster which supports archings or vaulting ribs
Carillon A set of bells, often in a bell tower, sometimes operated by means of a keyboard (manual or pedal), originating from the Low Countries. A tune adapted to be played by musical bells.
Catechesis Instruction of catechumens (people receiving instruction in the basic doctrines of Christianity before baptism)
Cathedra Seat/throne of a bishop
Cathedral The principal church of a diocese, containing the bishop’s throne called the cathedra
Centrally-planned building / Drum Building arranged around a central point (an octogonal, circular or squared structure for example), as opposed to an axial plan (basilica)
Chancel / Sanctuary Part of a church, in which the altar is placed, east of the main altar rails
Chantry A chapel endowed for the saying of Masses and prayers for the souls of the founders or the persons named by them
Chapel A separately dedicated part of a church for private prayer or small religious services
Chapter An assembly of the monks in a monastery, or the members of a religious house or order
Chapter house The place where the chapter of a cathedral or monastery meets; in British cathedrals often as a separate building, which is joined to the transept or the cloister by a covered passage (slype)
Charnel house Crypt, vault or cellar, in which are piled bones removed from the churchyard
Chevet East end of the church (with chapels radiating from it), apse
Choir Section of the church occupied by the choristers and the clergy. This is usually the eastern arm of the building, and for this reason a section of the chancel is sometimes called the choir even when it is not strictly used for that purpose
Choir screen Screen (as of ornamental woodwork or wrought iron) enclosing the choir
Choir stalls Seats of the clergy in a choir running east-west, wholly or partly enclosed on the back and sides
Christ of the Protective Mantle Rare depiction of Jesus Christ with a protective mantle in the style of a “Virgin of Mercy”
Ciborium 1. A vessel, normally in metal. It was originally a particular shape of drinking cup in Ancient Greece and Rome, but later used to refer to a large covered cup designed to hold hosts for, and after, the Eucharist, thus the counterpart (for the bread) of the chalice (for the wine). 2. In ecclesiastical architecture, a ciborium (“ciborion”: κιβώριον in Greek) is a canopy or covering supported by columns, freestanding in the sanctuary, that stands over and covers the altar in a basilica or other church.
Clas A clas church (Welsh pl. clasau) was a native Christian church in pre-Norman Wales. Clasau were autonomous and were administered locally.
Clerestory An upper storey, standing clear of its adjacent roofs, and pierced with windows which usually correspond in number with the number of arches or bays in the arcade below
Cloister An enclosed quadrangle in a monastery or by a church, surrounded by covered passages; cloister garth is the area enclosed by a closter
Cloister garth
See: Garth
Close An enclosed place, esp. the land surrounding or beside a cathedral
Collegiate church A church where the daily office of worship is maintained by a college of canons; a non-monastic or “secular” community of clergy
Commandment Boards Tablets bearing the Ten Commandments
Communion table In Protestant churches table used for the Lord's Supper
Concrete Building material composed of cement (manufactured powder made from limestone and clay), aggregate (mixture of mineral substances, e. g. sand or gravel) and water in varying proportion according to use; when mixed together the material hardens to a rock-like consistency
Confessional (box) A box, cabinet, or stall in which the priest sits to hear the confessions of penitents
Consecration The act of moving a place, object or person to the divine realm (see “Fanum”).
Consecration cross Cross that marks the places of consecration
Console Structural piece of stone, wood or metal jutting from a wall to carry a superincumbent weight; a corbel is a solid piece of material in the wall, whereas a console is a piece applied to the structure
Convent / Nunnery Building or group of buildings in which nuns (= religious women) live and worship; see also monastery.
Cornice / Moulding An continuous, molded projection that crowns the wall or other construction, or divides it horizontally for compositional purposes
Counterfort Buttress or other projection built against a wall in order to prevent it from moving or bulging
Crescent Madonna Depiction of the Madonna on the crescent, upon her head a crown of twelve stars, based on the vision of John the Evangelist in chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation
Crocket A projecting ornament, usually in the form of curved foliage, used to decorate the outer angles of pinnacles, spires, and gables
Cross-in-square A typical Byzantine church plan having nine bays. The center bay is a large square surmounted by a dome; the smaller square corner bays are domed or vaulted.
Crossing Area formed by the intersection of transepts, chancel and nave
See: Rood
Crypt (Half-)underground area, usually below the east end of a church; ring crypt: corridor crypt surrounding the apse of an early medieval church, often associated with chambers for relics
Cushion capital


Deconsecration The act of withdrawing a church from its use as place for services (in the Roman Catholic church the inverse liturgical act to the consecration); thereafter, the building may be demolished or used for other purposes.
Deisis A representation of Christ seated, with Mary on his right and the Baptist on his left, with their hands outstretched, interceding for the human race
Diocese The area that is controlled by a bishop
Dome Hemispherical structure evolved from the arch, usually forming a ceiling or roof
Dormition Picture of the dying Virgin Mary surrounded by the apostles
Dormitory Room for sleeping


Epistle side The side of a church on which the Epistle is read during the Mass or Eucharist. It is the right-hand side of the altar as viewed by the congregation from the nave, traditionally reserved for men; opposed to the Gospel side
Eucharist Lord's Supper
Evangelists’ symbols The four evangelists, who are considered the authors of the four gospels in the New Testament, are represented by winged symbols since the 4th century: man (Matthew), lion (Mark), ox (Luke) and eagle (John).
Exonarthex Outer part of a doubled narthex. The inner part is called esonarthex


Fan vault(ing) Trumpet-shaped, inverted semicones of masonry in fan-like shapes, enriched by tracery and springing from one springer equally in all directions; especially Perpendicular Period
Fanum Latin for “holy place”, pro-fanum is the place in front of the holy place
Finial A small, usually foliated ornament terminating the peak of a spire or pinnacle
Flint Variety of chert (cryptocrystalline silica), which occurs commonly as nodules and bands in chalk
Flowing tracery Waving or flame-shaped curves that is found in English architecture of the 14th century and in the French flamboyant
Fluting Fluted columns have long vertical grooves that go down the column
Folding altar
Foliate head / Green man An ornamental motif common in sculpture and woodcarvings in churches from the Norman and Gothic periods: a male head with leafy sprays growing from its mouth and/or eyes, or partially covered by leaves, like a man peering out from a bush – a touch of persistent Paganism in Christian art
Font A basin containing water used in baptism
Formeret Wall rib in a roof vaulted with ribs
Fortified church A church constructed for the purpose of defence or shelter
Forward-breaking cornice A cornice that runs around a forward-breaking part of the wall, e. g. a pilaster.
Fourteen holy helpers / Holy Helpers, fourteen A group of saints venerated together in Roman Catholicism because their intercession is believed to be particularly effective, especially against various diseases
Frieze A decorative band, as one along the top of an interior wall, or a sculptured one in a stringcourse on an outside wall


Gable The triangular portion of a wall enclosing the end of a pitched roof from cornice or eaves to ridge
See: Narthex
Gallery A roofed promenade, esp. one extending inside or outside along the exterior wall of a building
Gargoyle A grotesquely carved figure of a human or animal, esp. with an open mouth that serves as a spout and projects from a gutter to throw rainwater clear of a building
Garth / Cloister garth Also cloister garth, a courtyard or quadrangle enclosed by a cloister
See: Calvary
Gospel side The side of the church, where the Gospel is read. Facing the altar from the nave, it is the left-hand side, traditionally reserved for women; opposed to the Epistle side
Granite Usually light-coloured, coarse-grained igneous rock, consisting of essential quartz, alkali feldspar and mica; can be formed by partial melting of old continental crust, by fractional crystallisation of basalt magma, or by a combination of these processes
Green man
Grisaille A method of painting in grey monochrome, typically to imitate sculpture.


Hagioscope / Squint Hole cut in a wall or through a pier to allow a view of the main altar from places whence it could not otherwise be seen
Hall church Building in which the main body and the aisles of the church are of about equal height
Halo A circular decoration around the head of a figure to denote holiness
Hermitage The dwelling of a hermit
High altar Principal altar of a church, in which there are more than one
Hip knob Element marking the top or end of some object, often formed to be a decorative feature, e. g. a finial
Holy Helpers, fourteen
Holy Mass Eucharistic liturgical/Divine service


Icon Panel-paintings of Christ and the saints, which are the most obvious expression of Orthodox piety
Iconostasis Screen holding tiers of icons separating the sanctaury from the body of the church, pierced by three doors. Behind the central Royal Doors (two half-doors) the Eucharist is celebrated. On the right of the Royal Doors is an icon of Christ and on the left one of the Virgin. Other icons are arranged in strict order, always including the Baptist, the patron of the church, a Deisis (Christ seated with the Madonna on his right and the Baptist on his left) placed immediately above the Royal Doors, and some scenes commemorating the feasts of the church.
Impost The uppermost part of an abutment, often in the form of a block, capital or molding, from which an arch springs
Impost block / Dosseret A thickened abacus or supplementary capital set above a column capital to receive the thrust of an arch
Interlacing/Intersecting arcade An arcade, esp. a blind one, composed of arches resting on alternate supports and overlapping in series where they cross


Lady chapel A chapel dedicated to the virgin Mary, usually located behind the high altar of a cathedral
Lantern Construction placed on top of a building to admit light and allow smoke to escape; in Renaissance and Baroque architecture the small cupola-like structure, usually with decorative arcades, mounted on top of a dome
Lesene / Pilaster strip Narrow, low-relief, vertical pillar in a wall. It resembles a pilaster, but does not have a base or capital
Limestone Sedimentary type of rock composed mainly of calcite (usually colourless or white, but maybe shades of other colours) and/or dolomite (usually white or colourless, but can be yellowish or brown), which is often of organic, chemical or detrital origin
Lutheran rose Seal designed for Martin Luther, symbol for Lutheranism


Mandorla (Ital. almond), an aureola, or frame, in the shape of an almond, which surrounds figures (usually Christ), distinguished from a halo in that it encircles the entire body, and not just the head
Manual Keyboard
Marble Non-foliated, metamorphosed limestone, which is produced by recrystallisation and is hard enough to take a polish. The hardest and most attractive marbles have been used in statuary and for building since antiquity and are still quarried, e. g. from the Carrara quarry.
Martyrium An edifice erected over the tomb of a martyr
Mendicant orders Christian religious orders that have adopted a lifestyle of poverty, traveling, and living in urban areas for purposes of preaching, evangelism, and ministry, especially to the poor.
Minor basilica (Latin: Basilica minor, Basilicæ minores in plural) a title given to some Roman Catholic church buildings (not related to the building type “basilica”). The authorising decree is granted by the Pope through the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Misericord Carved bracket, which supports a hinged seat when it is turned up for use (a feature of choir stalls)
Monastery Building or group of buildings in which monks (= religious men) live and worship; see also convent/nunnery.
Mosaic A pattern or picture made using many small pieces of coloured stone or glass
Mouchette A daggerlike motif found especially in 14th cent. Gothic tracery, formed by elliptical and ogee curves so that it is pointed at one end and circular at the other.
See: Cornice


Narthex / Galilee A chamber, porch or separated area, usually at the West end/the main entrance of a church; used as a chapel for penitents
Nave Main body or the Western arm of the church in which the congregation is housed during services. Comprises the area between the chancel and the west end, often flanked by aisles
See: Convent


Onion dome A bulbous, domelike roof terminating in a sharp point to cover a cupola or tower
Openwork gablet Gable-shaped motif above gothic portals or windows, often containing tracery and framed by crockets and pinnacles
Order Style of classical architecture (Doric, Ionic or Corinthian in Greek architecture, additionally Tuscan or Composite in Roman architecture), characterized by the type and arrangement of columns and entablatures employed
Organ Keyboard instrument in which sets of pipes are sounded by compressed air and produce a variety of timbres
Orientation The position of a building on a site in relation to points on the compass (church buildings are often orientated to face East)
Our lady of Sorrows Mary portrayed in a sorrowful and lacrimating affect, with seven long knives or daggers piercing her heart, often bleeding


Pantocrator Almighty, Christ on the throne
See: Atrium
Patrocinium / Patronage In the Roman-Catholic tradition the guardian tutelage of a saint for a certain church or place; also used as the term for the feast or day of commemoration of the patron saint
Patron saint / Titular saint A person to whom a church is dedicated, esp. a saint who is believed to protect it
Pedalboard Keyboard designed to be played by the feet
Pedestal Base on which something such as a statue stands
Pietà A representation of the Virgin Mary mourning over the dead body of Christ
Pilaster Shallow pier attached to a wall
Pilaster strip
See: Lesene
Pinnacle Ornamental form crowning a spire, tower, buttress, etc, usually of steep pyramidal, conical or similar shape
Piscina A stone basin near the altar in Catholic and pre-Reformation churches for draining water used in the Mass.
Plinth Usually square block serving as a base
Porch Covered entrance built against the outside wall of the church to protect the south doorway; see also “atrium”
Portico Colonnade or covered ambulatory especially in classical architecture and often at the entrance of a building
Predella Horizontally oriented, painted panel forming the lowest element of an reredos
Presbytery 1. Area reserved for the clergy and usually to be found beyond the choir at the east end of the church (see sanctuary) 2. Parish council
Presbytery bench Seats or bench for the members of the presbytery or parish council near the eucharist table
Principal liturgical items Main liturgical items: altar, ambo, pulpit, font
Pro-fanum Latin for “profane”
Proclamation of God's word Sermon, preaching
Proprietary church A church built on private ground and owned by its lord, over which he retained the right of nominating the priest (advowson)
Pulpit Raised, fronted platform reached by steps and used by the preacher as a podium from which to deliver his sermons
Pulpit-altar Combination of pulpit and altar
Putto Figure depicted as a chubby male child, usually naked and sometimes winged


Rank Set of pipes of similar construction, arranged on a windchest so that there is one pipe for each note of the keyboard which sounds the pipes
Refectory Dining hall
Relic An object esteemed and venerated because of its association with a saint or martyr (often stored in a specially created shrine)
Relief Mode of sculpture in which forms and figures are distinguished from a surrounding plane surface
Reredos / Altarpiece / Retable Painted and/or sculpted screen behind and above an altar
Respond Pier or pilaster projecting from a wall as a support for an arch or lintel
See: Reredos
Retrochoir A separate division behind a choir or high altar of a large church, often dedicated to St Mary (Lady Chapel)
Ridge turret / Flèche A turret or small tower constructed over the ridge between the sloping roofs of a building, usually built for housing a clock or a bell
Ring-crypt (Semi-)circular crypt as a subterranean passage around a tomb of a saint
Rood / Crucifix A crucifix symbolizing the cross on which Jesus was crucified, esp. a large one set above the entrance to the choir or chancel
Rood screen Before the reformation, all churches were separated into two – the chancel for the clergy, the nave for the people – by a wooden, carved screen, with secure door, under the chancel arch. Immediately above, sometimes included in the screen’s construction, was the rood beam, which supported a loft or platform, on which were placed a great Crucifix or rood, with images of the Virgin and St John on either side. This loft was approached by a staircase let into the wall (rood stairs). At the Reformation, the rood and its images were almost universally torn down
Rose window / Wheel window Circular window in Gothic architecture
Rubble masonry Rough, unhewn building stone set in mortar, but not laid in regular courses


Sacrament A Christian rite that is a means of divine grace or a sign of a spiritual reality
See: Chancel
Sandstone A hard sedimentary rock formed by the weathering, erosion and accumulation of ‘sand-sized’ fragments from any pre-existing rock-type. Sand accumulations principally form as windblown desert dunes, coastal beaches or the beds of rivers and streams. Geologically, sand includes all particles between 0.063 mm and 2 mm in size. Over time, such sand deposits become gradually buried, compacted and cemented to form the sandstone beds quarried today. The term sandstone provides no indication of the mineralogical composition of the rock. Airborne pollutants, acidic or alkaline pore waters can enlarge, damage or block pore systems and cause the disfiguring precipitation of gypsum and other mineral cements on stone surfaces.
Sculpture Art of forming solid objects that represent a thing, person, idea, etc. out of a material such as wood, clay, metal, or stone, or an object made in this way
Sedes sapientiae (Lat. Seat/Throne of Wisdom), depiction of Mary and Jesus, which compares Mary to the throne of Solomon; she becomes the bearer of the incarnation of Solomon's wisdom (Jesus)
Sedilia Seats, often in the chancel, for use during Mass for the officiating priest and his assistants, inter alia the deacon and sub-deacon.
Side apse Apsidiole; smaller or secondary apse, usually the east end of an aisle
Single-nave(d) church
See: Slype
Slype / Slip A covered passage, esp. one between the transept and the chapter house of a cathedral
Sounding board / Tester Horizontal canopy above a pulpit
Spire A tall, tapering, pyramidal structure surmounting a steeple or tower
Spring / Springing The point at which an arch, vault, or dome rises from its support
Springer The first voussoir resting on the impost of an arch
See: Spring
See: Hagioscope
St Andrew’s cross X-shaped cross. It is believed that the Apostle Andrew was crucified on such a cross. Also called Crux Decussata after the Roman “decussis”/numeral ten
St Anthony’s cross T-shaped cross, also Tau cross from the Greek letter tau, Crux commissa (connected cross); named after the hermit Antonius, who is said to have carried a like-shaped stick
Stations of the cross A series of usually 14 images or pictures especially in a church that represent the stages of Christ's passion and death
Stave church Medieval wooden church once common in north-western Europe (especially Norway). The name derives from the building's structure of post and lintel construction, a type of timber framing where the load-bearing ore-pine posts are called stafr in Old Norse. Two related church building types also named for their structural elements, the post church and palisade church, are often called 'stave churches'.
Steeple A tall ornamental structure, usually ending in a spire and surmounting the tower
Stop A knob or switch in an organ to control a rank of pipes
Stoup A basin for holy water at the entrance of a church
Stucco Type of cement plaster that is applied to a surface


Tabernacle Richly ornamented niche or freestanding canopy; usually contains the Holy Sacrament
Titular saint
Tower A building or structure high in proportion to its lateral dimensions, either standing alone or forming part of a larger building
Tracery Pattern made with the stone ribs that fill the upper part of Gothic windows
Transepts A transept is the transverse section/one arm of the crossing in a cruciform church, normally at the tower crossing and separating the nave from the chancel
Transverse arch Arch set at right angles to the axis of a vault, which it divides into bays
Trefoil Decorative shape of three equal lobes, much used in tracery windows
Triforium Upper aisle with its own arcade forming an important part of the elevation of a nave interior above the nave-arcade and below the clerestory
Trumeau A column supporting the tympanum at its center
Tympan(um) Area above a lintel over an opening contained by an arch set above it


Vault Basically an arched roof, though the forms in which it has developed are manyfold, for example barrel, fan, lierne, rib and tierceron vault
Velum A piece of cloth used for various purposes in the Roman-Catholic liturgy, e. g. for covering the chalice until the communion takes place
See: Bargeboard
Vestry Room within or adjoining the church and used by the priest to store vestments and items relevant to church matters
Virgin and Child with St. Anne A representation of the Virgin and Child with St. Anne as a group of three
Virgin of Mercy A subject in Christian Art, showing a group of people sheltering for protection under the outspread cloak, or pallium of the Virgin Mary
Votive candle Offering / prayer candle
Voussoir Wedge-shaped unit in a masonry arch or vault, having side cuts converging at one of the arch centers


West-work Tower-like west front of an early Romanesque or Carolingian church containing an entrance-vestibule with a chapel and other rooms over it opening to the upper part of the nave
Wheel window
Winged altarpiece
Winged retable / Winged altarpiece / Folding altar Special form of reredos, in which the fixed shrine or corpus can be enclosed by movable wings (two: triptych)



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