Glossary of Architectural / Ecclesiastical Terms

Altar - raised structure with a flat top on which the Eucharist is celebrated.

Battlement – parapet with a series of embrasures (indentations) and merlons (raised portions) between. Also called Crenelation.  

Bench – seating in the nave for use of the congregation. Colloquially, but erroneously, called pews.  

Canons – clergy in a secular (non-monastic) cathedral or collegiate church.

Chancel - the eastern part of the church in which the altar is placed.

Chancel arch - arch at the juncture of chancel and nave.  

Corbel - a projection from the wall to carry weight not intended to rest directly upon the wall itself.

Cusp – spear shaped ornament, usually pierced. In tracery, the small pointed part between two lobes of a trefoil, quatrefoil, etc.

Embattled – with a battlement.  

Font - basin for baptismal water.  

Hagioscope – also known as a ‘squint’. An oblique opening in a wall to enable persons in the transepts to see the altar.

Lancet window – slender pointed-arched window.

Lights – vertical sections of a window or bell opening separated by mullions.  

Mullion – vertical division in a window.

Nave - the main body of the church.

Parapet - low protective wall, often decorated with tracery or embattled. Often seen around the roof or tower.

Provost - the highest official in a cathedral or collegiate church.

Pulpit - a raised, enclosed platform from which the preacher delivers a sermon. Originally, sermons were delivered from in front of the altar or in the churchyard. By the start of the 17th century, each church had to have a pulpit by law.  

Quatrefoil – four-leafed decoration in pierced or blind tracery.  

Reredos - structure behind and above the altar.  

Rood – a cross or crucifix.

Rood beam - a beam across the arch leading to the choir in the church.

Rood loft – singing gallery on top of the rood screen.

Rood screen - a carved wooden or stone screen dividing the choir from the nave.

Rood stairs – staircase giving access to the rood loft.

Scratch dial - a sundial 'scratched' into the south wall either to tell the time or to indicate times of service.  

Squint – see hagioscope.

Tracery - pierced and decorated ornamental stonework often in the space above window lights or in parapets, etc.

Transepts - the projecting arms of a church built in the form of a cross.

Tympanum – a lath and plaster or boarded partition to fill the space between the chancel arch and the rood or chancel screen.

Vestry – a room where vestments and records are kept.

Wagon roof – roof where the appearance of the cloth tilt over a wagon is achieved with close set rafters and arched braces. Commonly found throughout south Somerset uncovered, panelled or plastered.


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This page revised 26 September 2019