Glossary: Older English Churches
from "Some Old
Devon Churches," by John Stabb
right of nominating or presenting a clergyman to a vacant living.
Aisles. Spaces along the sides of the nave or chancel, and separated
from it by an arcade; they differ from transepts in being longer
east-west than north-south.
Altar. The holiest part of a church.
Ambulatory. Aisle around the east end of the choir joining the choir
side aisles to make a continuous passage.
Amice. Sacerdotal vestment, in the form of a square or oblong shaped
short linen cloth, used by the priest to cover the shoulders.
Apse. Semicircular end of a choir, chancel, or chapel.
Arcade. Series of arches supported by piers or columns.
Aumbry or Ambry. Niche in the wall in a large church; generally used
for storing various articles that are used in worship.
Portion of the church where the font was stored and baptisms were
performed, generally near the west door; sometimes a screen or grill
separates the baptistery from the nave.
Bay. Vertical division, usually marked by vertical shafts or
Bell tower. Tower where the church bells were installed; sometimes
called a campanile.
Boss. Decorative sculpture at the intersection of two vault ribs.
Braces. Curved or angled pieces of wood used to strengthen a roof or
other timber structure.
Buttress. Structure built against a building to strengthen it by
resisting the thrust of arches, roofs and vaults; a flying buttress
uses arches or half-arches to transmit the thrust to a buttress
standing clear of the wall.
block separating a column or pier from the arch or lintel that it
Chancel or Sanctuary. Eastern end of a church, containing the choir
and main altar; in churches with a historic floor plan, the chancel is
the front part of the church from which the service is conducted, as
distinct from the nave, where the congregation sits.
Chancel arch. That separating the chancel from the nave or crossing.
Chantry. Endowment to provide for the singing of masses for the souls
of the founders or of persons named by them; and also the chapel in
which these masses were performed.
Chantry chapel. Special chapel where prayers for the dead are said.
Chapel. A separate building, or an alcove or room with an altar in a
church, set aside for worship; chapels have are usually dedicated to
Chasuble. Sacerdotal vestment, used by the priest to cover the body.
Chrisom child. Infant that dies before reaching the age of one month.
Clerestory. Term formerly applied to any window or traceried opening
in a church (e.g., in an aisle, tower, cloister, or screen), but now
restricted to uppermost story of a church where it rises above the
Corbel. Projecting bracket often carved with grotesque monster heads.
Crocket. Small decorative leafy sculpture mainly used on the outer
curve of arches in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Crossing. Central space in a church where the nave, chancel, and
Cruciform. Church plan in the shape of a cross.
D, E, F, G
1250-1250; middle phase of Gothic architecture, characterized by
elaborate window tracery and naturalistic carving.
Early English. ca. 1185-1250; first phase of Gothic architecture
dominant after Norman, characterized by the earliest pointed arches and
simple lancet windows.
Font. Receptacle which contains the holy water for baptism.
Groining. The angular edges formed by the intersection of vaults in a
H, I, J, K
Squints. Openings in the walls of different parts of the church to
enable worshippers, who would otherwise not be able to see the altar,
to have a view of the priest at Mass.
High altar. The main altar, usually positioned towards the east end
of the choir.
Historic floor plan. As viewed by a worshipper seated among the
congregation, there are two speaker's stands on either side of the
front of the church: the one on the left or gospel side is called the
pulpit, and is used by clergy to read the gospel lesson and to preach
the sermon; and the one on the right or epistle side generally holds a
large Bible, and is used by lay readers for the Old Testament and
epistle lessons. The wall that the congregation faces during worship is
called the «east wall», regardless of the actual compass direction,
because of the ancient practice, inherited from Judaism, of facing
Jerusalem during prayers.
Jacobean period. ca. 1603-1625.
Jamb. A vertical element of a doorway or window frame.
Chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Lancet. Narrow pointed window of the Early English period
Lectern. Reading stand on the right or epistle side of the church,
used by lay persons to read scripture lessons, to lead the congregation
in prayer, and to make announcements.
Leper's window. Small window located in the chancel that would be
opened during Mass to give the sacrament to sick people outside in the
Linhay. A double-storeyed open-sided structure comprising a cattle or
cart shelter on the ground floor with a hayloft above.
Lych gate or Lynch gate. A covered gateway, at the entrance to a
churchyard, where during a funeral a coffin could be set down until the
Ornamental vestment in the form of a band, which is placed on the left
arm; it is worn only during Mass.
Misericord. Folding seat in the choir stalls, which provide relief
for clergy who had to stand during long church services.
Mullions. Vertical divisions of stone or wood between the lights of
Nave. Main body of the church west of the chancel, where the
congregation gathers for worship.
Norman period. 1066-1154.
O, P, Q
S-shaped curve forming arches and gables; a hallmark of the late
Parclose screen. Wooden screen partitioning a section of an aisle as
Parvise. Room built over a church porch.
Pew. Wooden seats or benches in the church; these only appeared at
the end of the Mediζval period.
Perpendicular. ca. 1350-1540; last phase of Gothic architecture,
characterized by tracery with patterns of intersecting horizontal and
Pier. Support for an arch; generally larger and heavier than a column.
Piscina. Recess with a shallow basin or drain usually found in the
south wall of the chancel; used for rinsing the sacred vessels and
cloths used at Mass or Communion, on which there remain traces of
Prie-Dieu Prayer desk; a kneeler with a small
shelf for books.
Pulpit. Reading stand on the left or gospel side of the church, used
by clergy to read the gospel and preach the sermon.
Church days fixed for rent payments; in the south of England these were
Lady Day (March 25th, Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin),
Midsummer's Day (June 24th, Feast of St John the Baptist), Michaelmas
Day (September 29th, Feast of St. Michael the Archangel), and Christmas
Day (December 25th, Feast of the Birth of Jesus).
Reredos. Decorative screen behind the altar, usually highly carved.
Rib. Projecting feature of a vault which may be either ornamental or
structural, or both.
Rood. Cross or crucifix erected at the entry to the chancel, usually
flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John; almost all medieval roods were
destroyed at the Reformation.
Rood loft. Gallery upon which the rood is supported.
Rood screen. Screen built beneath the rood loft, separating the
chancel and the nave.
Royal arms. Arms of the monarch, usually painted on wood or canvas,
which became compulsory in churches after the Reformation [ca. 1550].
sacred part of the church, where the high altar is placed.
Saxon period. 802-1066.
Sedilia. Recessed stone seats in the south wall of the chancel, used
for the priest, deacon and sub-deacon at Mass.
Soffit. The exposed underside of any overhead component of a
building, such as an arch, balcony, beam, cornice, or lintel.
Spandrel. Wedge-shaped area of wall next to the curved «shoulder» of
Splay. Slope or bevel, especially of the sides of a door or window,
by which the opening is made larger at one face of the wall than at the
other, or larger at each of the faces than it is between them.
Stalls. Divisions within the choir, where clergy sat or stood) during
Stoup. Container for holy water near the west door.
Sybils. Ancient Greek prophetesses.
Ornamental stone ribs in windows.
Tympanum. Space between the lintel and arch of a doorway or opening.
Transept. Cross-ways compartment of a church, generally used as a
pair leading off the crossing at the junction of the nave and choir;
usually aligned north-south.
Transom rail. - Horizontal bar across the lights of a window.
Tudor period. 1485-1603.
U, V, W, X, Y,
ceiling formed like arches: a barrel vault is an arched stone tunnel; a
groin vault is formed from intersecting barrel vaults (the edges or
groins where the vaults meet do not have ribs or other strengthening);
a rib vault is similar to a groin vault but the vault surface is
supported by diagonal ribs at the intersections of the compartments; a
fan vault was constructed of intersecting conical shapes, usually
covered with blind tracery motifs.
Waggon. Roof consisting of a series of rafters and arch braces set
closely together to give the appearance of a wagon or vaulted roof.
Vestry. Room where the clergy and choir dress and the vestments are