Illustrated Architecture Dictionary

Churches - Glossary

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All examples are from churches in Buffalo, New York

The recess, usually semicircular, at the end of a Roman basilica or a Christian church.
Illustration from St. Louis RC Church

A series of arches supported on piers or columns.
Illustration from St. Louis RC

Blind Arcade: An arcade applied to a wall surface, with no actual openings, to serve as a decoration.

Baldachino / baldachin / baldacchino / baldaquin
An ornamental canopy over an altar, usually supported by columns, or a similar form over a tomb or throne

In Roman architecture, a public building for assemblies, especially tribunals, rectangular in plan, entered on a long side. In Christian architecture, an early church somewhat resembling the Roman basilica; usually entered from one end with an apse at the other creating an axial plan.
A compartment that serve as a unit of division in a building. in a Gothic cathedral the transverse arches and adjacent piers of the arcade divide the building into bays, the design of which is an architectural unit repeated in each bay.

Illustration from St. Louis' RC

Buttress (BUT ris)
A structure, usually brick or stone, built against a wall for support or reinforcement.

Pier Buttress: an exterior pier counteracting the thrust of a vault or arch.
Flying Buttress: masonry support consisting usually of a pier or buttress standing apart from the main structure and connected to it by an arch.

Illustration from Asbury Delaware Ave.

The top part of a pillar or column
Illustration from St. Francis Xavier RC

One of the compartments of a groin or rib vault, in the Romanesque period usually of plastered rubble, in the Gothic period of neatly coursed stones
Illustration from St. John's Grace Episcopal

Chancel (CHAN sul)
The space around the altar of a church for the clergy and sometimes the choir, often enclosed by a lattice or a railing.
Illustration from Central Presbyterian

A chapel is a holy place or area of worship for Christians, which may be attached to an institution such as a large church, a college, a hospital, a palace, a prison or a cemetery, or may be free-standing and unattached to another building." - Wikipedia: Chapel

Clerestory Also "clearstory." (CLEAR story)
The upper part of the nave, transepts, and choir of a church, containing windows
Illustration from St. Louis' RC

A decorative feature carved in various leaf shapes and projecting at regular intervals from the angles of spires, pinnacles, canopies, gables, etc., in Gothic architecture.

Illustration from St. Louis' RC

The space at the interior intersection of the nave, chancel, and transept of a church; often surmounted by a crossing tower or dome.
Shaped like a cross. This is basic design for many Christian churches.
A vault of even curvature erected on a circular base. The section can be segmental, semicircular, pointed, or bulbous.

A lobe or leaf-shaped curve formed by the cusping of a circle or an arch.
The number of foils involved is indicated by a prefix, e.g. trefoil, quatrefoil, multifoil
Illustration from Asbury Delaware Ave.
The art of painting on fresh, moist plaster with pigments dissolved in water.

Gothic Revival


Illustration from St. Louis RC

Lancet Window
A slender pointed-arched window.
Illustration from St. John's Grace Episcopal
A picture or decorative design made by setting small colored pieces, as of stone or tile, into a surface.

Greek for "enclosure"

An enclosed passage between the main entrance and the nave of a church. The narthex is an entryway or gathering room leading into a church.

The area is sometimes referred to as "vestibule" or "foyer."

In the narthex people often gather before and after a service to greet each other It is an area for bridging the "sacred" and the "secular."

"In early Christian architecture a portion of the church at the west end, separated from the nave by a low wall or screen and reserved for the catechumens (ones being taught the principles of Christianity), energumens (ones possessed by an evil spirit,) and penitents who were not admitted amongst the congregation. The narthex was of two kinds, exterior and interior: the former consisted of an open atrium arcade continued across the front of the church" - New Advent (online April 2021)

From navis, ship, an early symbol of the church.
The central aisle; the part of a church located between the chief entrance and the chancel, and separated from the aisles by piers or columns.
Illustration from St. Ann's RC

A small turret-like termination crowning spires, buttresses, the angles of parapets, etc.; usually of steep pyramidal or conical shape and ornamented, e.g., with crockets.
Illustration from St. Ann's RC


An ornamental screen or wall at the back of an altar

Illustration from St. Ann's RC Church

One of the curved pieces of an arch

Illustration from St. Ann's RChurch

Romanesque Revival
Style of architecture, popular in U.S. 1870-1900,
distinguished by round arches.

Rose Window Also: Wheel Window
The round window with tracery frequently found on the facades of Gothic churches.
Illustration from  St. Louis RC Church

Sanctuary (SANGK choo air ee)
1- The holiest part of a sacred place, as in a Christian church around the altar.
2- A sacred place, such as a church, temple or mosque.
Illustration from St. Ann's RC

Side aisle
Aisle(s) to the side of the nave (central aisle)
Illustration from St. Louis RC

The ornamental intersecting work in the upper part of a window, screen, or panel, or used decoratively in blank arches and vaults.
Illustration from St. John's Grace Episcopal

Transept (TRAN sept)
The crosswise part of a cruciform church, crossing the nave at right angles.
Illustration from St. Louis RC

An arched structure of stone, brick, or reinforced concrete, forming a supporting structure of a ceiling or roof

Barrel vault:/Barrel roof: A vault having a semicylindrical roof

Groin(ed) vault/Cross vault: A compound vault in which barrel vaults intersect

Rib(bed) vault: A vault supported by or decorated with arched diagonal ribs (rib: one of the curved pieces of an arch)

Illustration from St. Ann's RC

(VES ti byool)
A small entrance hall or passage between the outer door and the interior of a house or building

Photos and their arrangement 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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