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18 September 2014
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Fact Files: Church Glossary

The head of a male monastery.

The spaces along the sides of the nave or chancel, and separated from it by an arcade. Aisles differ from transepts in being longer E-W than N-S.
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Charitable offerings given to the poor or to the Church, generally for religious reasons.
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The aisle around the east end of the choir joining the choir side aisles to make a continuous passage.

Angel roof
A type of late medieval roof in which the ends of the beams were carved to look like angels.

Semicircular end of a choir, chancel, or chapel.

A series of arches supported by piers or columns.

Attached shaft
An architectural feature that looks like a shaft or column partially sunk into the wall surface.

A unit of an interior or exterior elevation defined by vertical features such as windows, columns, or arches.

Blind arcading
An arcade backed by a solid wall. A very popular decorative motif in English medieval architecture.

Decorative sculpture at the intersection of two vault ribs.

Curved or angled pieces of wood used to strengthen a roof or other timber structure.

A structure (of stone, brick, or wood) 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.

A priest attached to a (non-monastic) cathedral or collegiate church. Canons generally lived a less communal life than monks.
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The carved block separating a column or pier from the arch or lintel that it supports.

The area of a parish church at the east end, where the altar was located. Also known as the choir in larger churches.
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1) An endowment to provide for the singing of masses for the souls of the founders and/or of persons named by them.
2) The chapel in which these masses were performed.
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1) A separate space within a church containing its own altar.
2) Place of worship, either a separate building or incorporated within another structure such as a house or castle, below the rank of a parish church.
3) Place of nonconformist worship.
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Chapter house
The room in a monastery or cathedral where the entire community gathered for a daily assembly.

1) The part of a cathedral, monastic church or collegiate church where services are sung. Often spelled Quire in older books.
2) A group of singers.

Choir stalls
The seats in the choir. Often highly decorated and having misericords.

The uppermost row of windows. So-called because it stands clear of the aisle roof.
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An enclosed, square courtyard in a monastery with covered walk-ways open to the centre through an arcade on each side.

A vertical support, usually round or polygonal.

Compound pier
A pier comprised of a number of decorative elements such as shafts grouped around a central core.

A projecting bracket often carved with grotesque monster heads.

Corbel table
A row of corbels used as a decorative feature. Often placed below the eaves of a roof, possibly in imitation of the carved ends of projecting roof beams.

The central space in a church where the nave, chancel, and transepts meet.

Crossing arch
The arches leading from the nave, choir, and transepts into the central crossing space.

Cross shaped.

The projecting points formed by partial curves within an arch.

The style of Gothic architecture popular in England c.1260-c.1360. Characterised by all-over use of decoration, especially small-scale architectural motifs like arches and gables.

The area of territory, with its parishes, under the religious jurisdiction of an individual bishop. An archdiocese is a larger area, including several dioceses, controlled by an archbishop. There are two archdioceses in England, Canterbury and York.
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A representation of the Last Judgement. Often painted above the chancel arch in a medieval parish church.
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The place where the monks slept. In early monasteries dormitories were communal, but in later years, monks were allotted individual cells or rooms.

Early English
The earliest style of Gothic architecture in England, common from c.1180-c.1250. Known in the 19th century as Lancet style because of its use of lancets; also characterised by stiff-leaf ornament and the use of contrasting Purbeck or other dark, English marble.

A vertical wall face of a building.

Episcopal Statutes
Episcopal statutes, or laws, concerning the furnishing and maintenance of parish churches provide us with a unique portrait of the interior of a medieval parish church. The earliest statutes date to the early 13th century. The earliest statutes are quite vague, simply requiring the parishioners to look after the nave of their church, while the rector was to take care of the chancel. Later statutes are much more informative and give very full lists of exactly which objects were to be provided. Because so many fittings were destroyed or dispersed at the Reformation, these statutes are now our best guide to what the interior of a medieval church looked like.
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Feast days
In the Middle Ages, feast days, or holy days (the origin of the modern holiday) were days on which work was prohibited and attendance at church required. Some commemorated events in the life of Christ, such as Christmas and Easter, others commemorated the Virgin Mary or the saints. ‘Movable feasts’ are altered every year so that they fall on a certain day of the week (eg Easter is always on Sunday), but ‘immovable feasts’ like Christmas (December 25) are linked to specific dates. Fairs and other ‘festivals’ were often associated with feast days. Many feast days were banned in England at the Reformation.
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The area around the main shrine. Generally located behind the high altar. From feretum, Latin for bier or shrine.

The vertical, triangular-shaped end of a roof.

A western annex or porch of a church.

A balcony or mezzanine overlooking the main interior space of a building. In a church the gallery is an upper storey directly above the aisle, with arches looking down into the nave.

The dominant architectural style in the Middle Ages, used primarily from the later 12th century until the mid 16th century. It is characterised by pointed arches, rib-vaults, and large tracery windows.

A type of payment made after the death of the deceased's over-lord. Originally it involved the return of military equipment or weapons which had been loaned for life, but later it became the render to the lord of either the best beast (horse, cow, etc) or the best object owned by the deceased.

High altar
The main altar, usually located towards the east end of the choir.

Lady Chapel
A chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

A tall, narrow, pointed window.

The windowed upper stage of a tower or dome.

A lay person was anyone who was not a priest, monk, or otherwise in religious orders.
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The words and music of a religious service.
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An ornamental vaulting rib that joins two other ribs into a net-like pattern but has no structural function.

The main rite of the Christian Church, at which the Last Supper is commemorated through the consecration of bread and wine, which is then shared by the priest and the people. Sometimes it is known as Communion or Eucharist in the modern Anglican Church.
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A folding seat which has a shelf on its underside to support a standing person. The bracket supporting the shelf was usually carved.

The body of the church west of the chancel arch or crossing. The place where lay people stood during the mass.
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Vertical recess in a wall, often for a statue.

A common name for the type of Romanesque architecture used in England in the 11th and 12th centuries after the Norman Conquest in 1066.

A sweeping S-curve commonly used for arches and in tracery from c.1300.

An area of territory controlled by a 'count palatinate'. While this territory was still technically ruled by the king, the count palatinate had powers which elsewhere were reserved for the monarch alone.

Parclose screen
A wooden screen partitioning a section of an aisle as a chapel.
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A style of Gothic architecture popular in England from the mid 14th to the mid 16th century. Characterised by tracery with patterns of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines.
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A support (usually made of masonry or brick) for an arch. Generally larger and heavier than a column.

A niche with a drain (like a sink) used to wash liturgical vessels after the mass.
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Before the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Synonymous with Anglo-Saxon.

The area of the church around and in front of the main or high altar; also a priest’s residence. From presbyter, Latin for priest.

A superior officer in a male religious house.

A raised platform for preaching. A two-decker pulpit also incorporated a reading-desk, while a three-decker pulpit had a reading desk and also a parish clerk’s desk.

A stone screen dividing the nave and choir of a great church. The upper section was used as a pulpit for preaching, for a choir, and sometimes for an organ.

A dark-coloured, shelly limestone from the Isle of Purbeck (Dorset) that can be polished to a high sheen.

Purgatory (Latin purgare: to purify) is the place, in Roman Catholic doctrine, where the souls of the dead are purified of any remaining sins before they enter Heaven. It was one of the doctrines rejected by Protestants at the Reformation. Time spent in Purgatory could be shortened by prayers, and especially masses, said by the living, and by indulgences granted by the Pope, often in return for contributions to church building funds or upon the completion of a pilgrimage. The basic principles behind the doctrine of Purgatory go back at least to early Christian times, but they were more clearly formulated in the Middle Ages, leading to a rise in chantry foundations.
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Archaic term for the chancel or choir.

The communal dining hall of a monastery. Sometimes called a 'frater'.

The 15th- and 16th-century intellectual and artistic revival of forms from Ancient Greece and Rome.

Arch supporting the inner part of the wall around a window or door.

A type of window tracery which has a net-like pattern formed by a series of inter-linked ogee arches. It was common in the early 14th-century Decorated style (from Latin opus reticulatum: net or lace-work).

The part of the church to the east or behind (Latin retro) the choir.

A representation of Christ on the Cross, flanked by the Virgin Mary and St John. Almost all medieval roods were destroyed at the Reformation.
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Rood screen
Screen originally surmounted by a Rood.

The architectural style common in Western Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries. It is characterised by massive masonry and round-headed arches inspired by ancient Roman models, and by the use of stylised ornament. In England it is often called Norman.

Not sacred. Of, or pertaining to, the world. Secular clergy were priests, not monks.

A row of one or more seats near the altar for the officiating priest and his assistants.
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The body of a column or pillar between the base and the capital. It is especially used for the small columns found around a window, door, or other opening. Shafts are generally round, but may also be polygonal.

Shaft ring
A characteristically Early English-style moulded band around a shaft. Used to cover the joints between the sections of a detached shaft, but also as a decorative feature.

A repository for the relics of a saint. Often in the form of an elaborate tomb embellished with gems and precious metals.

The wedge-shaped area of wall next to the curved ‘shoulder’ of an arch.

The pointed top of a tower.

A type of foliage ornament typical of the Early English style.

String course
A horizontal moulding projecting from the surface of the wall. Used to visually separate different parts of the elevation.

A canopied frame like a miniature building, used around an image or over a statue.

A type of ornamental vaulting rib.

A tax of 10 per cent of all income which was given to the parish church to support the priest and the work of the church. Tithes were taken on agricultural produce such as grain and newly born animals, on manufactured goods such as woollens, and on money income. In the Middle Ages and early modern period the payment of tithes was compulsory.
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The open-work pattern within an opening, especially the upper part of a window. Blind tracery is applied to a solid wall. Plate tracery has a decorative pattern of shapes cut through a solid surface, while in bar tracery the patterns are formed by shaped intersecting bands of stonework.

A cross-ways compartment of a church, generally used as a pair leading off the crossing at the junction of the nave and choir.
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The surface within the head of an arch or pediment.

A curved stone ceiling. A barrel vault is simply an arched stone tunnel. A groin vault is formed from intersecting barrel vaults. The edges (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 (or webbing) is supported by diagonal ribs at the intersections of the compartments. Tierceron and lierne vaults are rib vaults with added decorative ribs. A fan vault was constructed of intersecting conical shapes, usually covered with blind tracery motifs.

1) A room in a church where the ministers changed into their vestments, which were sometimes also stored there, especially in smaller churches.
2) A group of parishioners who oversaw the secular functions of the parish.
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Published: 28-01-2005

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