Illustrated Architecture Dictionary

Pronounced STEEL EE or STEEL


A stele (plural steles) or stela (plural stelas or stelae, from Latin) is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected as a monument, very often for funerary or commemorative purposes.

Stelae may be used for government notices or as territorial markers to mark borders or delineate land ownership. They very often have texts and may have decoration, which may be inscribed, carved in relief (bas, high, etc.), or painted onto the slab.

Traditional Western gravestones are technically stelae, but are very rarely described by the term.

An obelisk is a specialized kind of stele.

- Wikipedia: Stele (Online Jan. 2014)

Buddhist steles

Buddhist steles - upright stone tablets carved with Buddhist images and symbols - flourished only for a short period during the Northern and Southern Dynasties.

Considering the enduring history of Chinese steles, which have been in use from the first century c.e. until modern times, the phenomenon of Buddhist steles represents just a brief interlude.

More than two hundred Buddhist steles are known to have survived, many of superb artistic quality. Ranging in height from 1 to 3 meters, these monuments are carved with votive images of Buddhist deities and graceful depictions of donors.

The status of these steles in the history of Chinese art is equivalent to that of sculptures on Romanesque churches: they are eloquent expressions of an ardent religious faith. Their patrons included nobles and wealthy families, but most were members of devotional groups from small towns and villages across the north. Erected in temple courtyards, in village entryways, or by the roadside, Buddhist steles stood as emblems of the communities’ religious, social, cultural, and territorial identities. Many of these steles rank among the best sculptures of the period.

The upright stone is one of the most common art forms used in many civilizations...

 The term “stele” (Gr.), or “stela” (Lat.), means a “shaft” or a “pillar,” referring to an upright stone slab, frequently inscribed or carved, used primarily as a grave marker but also for dedication, commemoration, and demarcation.

- Dorothy C. Wong, Chinese Steles (Online Jan. 2014)

Examples from Buffalo architecture:

Photos and their arrangement 2014 Chuck LaChiusa
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