Glossary of Religious Architecture
Glossary of Religious Architecture

Dictionary of most important terminology in Sacred Architecture. For quick navigation, use Ctrl+F or F3 to find on page.


A flat slab or block of stone or wood forming the top of a capital and supporting an entablature or other load, uppermost part of a capital


Semicircular or polygonal aisle


The part of stone or brick wall which sustains an arch


Semicircular or polygonal termination to chancel


A row of arches, e.g. between the nave and aisles, of cathedral, supporting the main wall which is pierced by windows in a clerestory


Rows of small arches used mainly for effect, either on the lower part of an internal aisle wall, or as a decorative feature on external walls, bellow the eaves or parapet


A self-supporting arrangement of bricks or stone blocks (voussoirs) carrying the weight of a wall over an opening. The width of the arch between it’s supports is the ‘span’, it’s height from base or ‘springing line’ to top (‘crown’) is called the ‘rise’


A term describing a building in which arches are used to support the structure, as opposed to a ‘trabeated’ building, where columns and beams are used. All English Gothic cathedrals are arcuated


Hewn or squared stone

Ball flower

Form of 14th century decoration – globular flower with three incurved petals


A small pillar usually made circular, and swelling in the middle or towards the bottom


A continuous semi-circular arch or tunnel, used in English Norman architecture


The lower part of a column or pillar


A principal compartment or division in an arcade


Timber or stone framework on roof from which to suspend bells


A bell tower or campanile

Blind storey

An alternative name for the triforium


In medieval architecture, a keystone usually carved ornamentally and sometimes also painted and gilded, at the intersection of ribs in a vaulted roof

Box pew

Pew with a high wooden enclosure


Half pyramid covering base of spire


A vertical mass of masonry or brickwork projecting from a wall to resist the outward thrust of a roof-truss or vault or merely to stiffen the wall; projection from wall to provide additional strength and support


Slightly arched


A term usually applied only to a bell tower which is detached from a church. These are very rare in England. One was demolished at Salisbury Cathedral in 1789; but one example still survives, at Chichester Cathedral, erected c.1410-40; bell tower, usually detached


The moulded or carved block on the top of a column. It is often richly ornamented but it actually served a utilitarian purpose – to distribute weight from above on to the shaft of the column


North, south, east and west


Angle pared off


The part of a cathedral or church east of the crossing

Chantry chapel

A chapel endowed by the founder for the chanting of Masses for his soul or by a guild for its members

Chapter house

An assembly place for the governing members of an ecclesiastic foundation; the place of assembly for the dean and canons in a cathedral


A semi-circular apse with radiating chapels

Chevron or zigzag

A Norman ornamental moulding in the form of a zigzag


In an aisled building such as a cathedral or church, the part of the main wall, below the eaves and above the top of the aisled roof, which is pierced with windows giving light to the main interior

Collegiate church

Church endowed for a college of priests


A protective covering of bricks or stone on the top of a wall, usually projecting slightly in order to throw rainwater away from the face of the wall below


A stone block, build into and projecting from a wall to carry the end of a roof-truss or a beam; often carved with grotesque human or animal figures

Corbel table

A row of stone corbels or brackets carrying a parapet; often carved into grotesque heads


A continuous horizontal member, usually moulded, crowning an external wall, or around the top of a room internally


Arched undersurface


In any cathedral or large cruciform church, the square space formed by the intersection of nave and transepts


A underground chamber or cellar, usually vaulted; found in most English cathedrals, partly or entirely bellow ground


Small rounded dome raised on supports

Cushion capital

In Romanesque architecture, a plan cubic capital with its lower corners cut off and rounded, so that it resembles a cushion


Projecting point in tracery or arch


Decoration on lower part of wall

Dog-tooth moulding

A ornamental moulding in stone, much used in English cathedrals during the 13th century. It consists of a row of pyramidal projections, each carved into four leaves


Projecting upright window in sloping roof or spire


A convex roof, usually hemispherical, over a square, circular, or octagonal space

Dressed stone

Stone cut to serve as frame for walls or windows

Easter sepulchre

Structure for holding the Sacrament just before Easter


Window arrangement


Narrow, flat band running along shaft or moulding

Flying buttress

A stone buttress crossing of a an arch serving as a prop, it’s upper end resting against the high main wall of a church, it’s lower end against a pier, in order to take any transmitted thrust. To increase the stability of the buttress, a pinnacle is usually built on the top of the pier

Font canopy

Wooden structure completely enveloping font


The triangular place of wall at the end of a ridged roof


A porch or chapel at the west end of a cathedral


Projecting spout in human or animal shape for throwing water clear of roof

Hood mould

Projecting moulding above arch or window to throw off water


Capital on top of pilaster or pier from which arch springs


Side of a doorway or window

Jesse Window

Window in which glass or stonework forms Tree of Jesse, representing genealogy of Christ


The wedge shaped central stone of an arch, on which the efficiency of the arch depends

Label stop

Ornamental head or other shape at end of hood mould

Lady Chapel

Chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary


Slender pointed window


A turret or other small structure erected on the top of a tower, a roof, or a dome, to give light to the interior of a building

Lay reactor

Layman who receives the rectorial tithes of a parish, or in whom the rectory is vested


Vertical division of window


In the choir stalls of a medieval church, a bracket (often grotesquely or humourously carved) beneath a hinged seat which, when the seat was tipped up, gave some support to a person standing during a lengthy service


Outline given to arches, bases and capitals


A stone or wood vertical bar dividing a window opening into ‘lights’


The main body of a church, with or without flanking aisles ; but excluding the chancel and transepts (if any)

Nail head

Late Norman decoration in form of a square raised to a centre


Recess in wall for statue

Ogee arch

A pointed arch of double curvature – convex above concrete


Receding arch of a doorway or window


A low wall built around a roof or platform to prevent people from falling over the edge


In architecture, a solid vertical mass of stone, brick or concrete, supporting a vertical load; free standing solid support between arches


A flat and often ornamental column, partially built into the wall of a structure, and projecting from in very slightly; shallow pier attached to and projecting from wall


Free standing support of arch, generally ornamental as well as structural


Shallow basin with drain near altar

Plate tracery

A primitive form of Gothic tracery, in which geometrical openings, such as circles, were pierced through a solid slab or plate of stone


Projecting base of column or pillar


The area near the high altar

Poppy head

Fleur-de-lis elevated termination of bench end


Side chamber


Raised stage from which sermons are delivered


A screen dividing the choir from nave


Dressed stone at angle


Incumbent of a parish, the great tithes of which he used to retain


An ornamental screen above and behind the altar

Retro choir

In some cathedrals and large churches, the portion of the chancel behind the high altar, at the extreme east end

Roll moulding

Moulding of generally semicircular section


A cross or crucifix

Rood loft

Means of access for cleaning, lighting and decking rood and sometimes acting as base for it. It also provided accomodation for choir and instrumentalists

Rood screen

Screen, stone or wooden, below the rood separating chancel from nave

Rose window (wheel)

A circular window containing tracery and often resembling a rose; circular window with tracery radiating from centre


A term occasionally applied to a dome or to a circular domed building


Tower roof shaped like a timber gable


Either the holiest part of a church, i.e. in the chancel, or any portion of a church in which a medieval fugitive from justice could claim sanctuary and escape arrest, under an ancient church law

Sanctuary knocker

Ornamental knocker on the door of a church which a fugitive could touch when claiming sanctuary


A range of stone seats, generally three in number, on the south side of chancel, for the use of the clergy


Design incised in plaster


The main part of a column, from its base to its capital


Of arch or beam, the distance between it’s points of support


The approximately triangular space between the outer curve of arch and an enclosing frame of mouldings, etc. Often richly carved with foliage

Spire light

Projecting opening in spire for ventilation

Stained glass

Glass ‘stained’ or coloured by the addition of a metallic oxide during its burning, but usually painted afterwards with delicate foliage and other detail

Stair turret

Stone stairway giving access to tower stages


Fixed seat, usually with carving, in choir or chancel

Stellar vaulting

Vaulting of a type in which the converging ribs from a star like pattern

String course

Projecting horizontal band or moulding on surface of wall

Three decker pulpit

Pulpit with clerk’s stall and reading desk below


In vaulting, a mirror rib springing from a main rib and leading to ridge-rib


In Gothic architecture, slender moulded stone bars, intersecting to form patterns at the tops of windows


Form evolved at end of Early English period in which the head of window is filled with Geometrical forms, at first simple and constructed of bars of stone but later developed into more varied shapes


Decorated form composed of ogee shapes producing net like pattern

Kentish tracery

Star like forms with spikes


Later Decorated forms in which circular and ogee shapes are eliminated


Rectilinear from in which vertical bars (mullions) carry right up into head of window


In any cruciform cathedral or large church, the transverse arm running north and south. The term is generally used in its plural form, as ‘transepts’, otherwise one speaks of ‘the North Transept’ and ‘the South Transept’


In any large window with mullions, a horizontal bar across the whole window, of the same section as the mullions, to stiffen them transversely


Literally ‘three-leaved’. Either a carved three leaved ornament, or a three lobed or three leaved panel or opening in tracery


Storey above aisle with arched opening to nave

Triforium or Blind storey

In a medieval cathedral or large church, the portion of the internal wall above the arcade and below the clerestory, behind which is the dark or blind space over the aisle. The name blind storey is used as a contrast to the term clerestory because the latter is pierced with windows

Tunnel vault

Another name for a barrel vault


The semi-circular space over a round-headed doorway, above the lintel and beneath the enclosing arch; often decorated with sculpture; or space within a pediment


In medieval monastery or a formerly monastic cathedral, a vaulted cellar or range of rooms used for storage etc, often with a dormitory above

Vault, vaulting

The covering of a building, or part of a building, with a roof formed of concrete (‘monolithic’); or of stones in mortar, or bricks in mortar, and in any case forming a continuous semi-circular or pointed arch

Fan vaulting

The latest and most elaborate phase of English Gothic vaulting, very complicated and structurally somewhat illogical; a type of vault in which the length and curvature of ribs, which spring from the same point, are similar

Lierne vault

A vault incorporating decorative short, subsidiary ribs (liernes)

Rib vault

A vault with ribs projecting along the groin


Incumbent of a parish, the great tithes of which did not belong to