Illustrated Architecture Dictionary

Rose window

A round window divided into segments by stone mullions and tracery that imitate a multi-petalled rose.

Frequently found on the facades of Gothic style churches and less frequently on Romanesque style churches.

 Wheel window: window divided by simple spokes radiating from a central opening

 Oculus: circular window without tracery

Catherine windows: Rose windows are also called Catherine windows after Saint Catherine of Alexandria who was sentenced to be executed on a spiked wheel

Flamboyant: From French flamboyant, "flaming." The name derives from the flame-like windings of its tracery. 14th to the early 16th century in France. Example: Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France

Rayonnant: From the French word meaning "to radiate." Describes the radiating spokes of the rose windows which flourished 1240–1350 in France.
Examples: St. Denis Basilica  ..........  Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France

Iconography: In Gothic cathedrals and churches, where a rose is often found above the West Door, the most common subject of the stained glass that it contains is the Last Judgment

Iconography: When rose windows are used in the transept ends, then one of those windows is frequently dedicated to Mary as the Mother of Jesus. (In England, the use of the rose window was commonly confined to the transepts.)

Iconography: Discussion of rose windows sometimes include mandalas.

Sometimes the figurative subject matter is rejected in favor of purely decorative patterns of foliage and bright colors.


The arrival of rose windows in the cathedrals is somewhat of a mystery. They appeared quite suddenly around the year 1200 and within fifty years had diffused right across France. A few appeared in England, Italy, Spain and Germany; but they remain essentially a French phenomenon, and it is around Paris that we find the greatest gems. in all three early large cathedrals around Paris the largest possible rose windows were incorporated from the first on three sides [facade and transepts]."

- Painton Cowen, Rose Windows. Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1979, p. 8


The last step in evolution of the Gothic style was to set the rose window into a tier of vertical lights, of staggered height and surmount it by a tapering pointed light so that it became the centre of a vast window composition.

- Wikipedia: Rose Window  (online Nov. 2020)

See also:   Michael S. Schneider, The West Rose Window of The Cathedral of St. John The Divine in New York City for an interesting analysis of the geometry of the window.  (online Nov. 2020)

Exterior examples from Buffalo architecture:

Other examples:

Photos and their arrangement 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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