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Gothic architecture terms

Ambulatory - circular aisle which wraps around the apse.

apse - (Lat. apsis, an arch) The semicircular or polygonal termination to the choir or aisles of a church. See cathedral and diagram.

arch - the pointed arch is widely regarded as the main identifiable feature of Gothic architecture (distinct from the round arch of the Romanesque period). The most common Gothic arches are the Lancet, Equilateral and Ogee.
boss - highly decorated carving found in ceilings, used to conceal the breaks in vault work.

buttress - a mass of stone built up to support a wall, usually necessary to strengthen those of great height. See flying buttress.
capital - the cap or crown to a column, usually heavily decorated.

cathedral - (cathedra, seat or throne) the principal church of a province or diocese, where the throne of the bishop is placed. By tradition, a cathedral always faces west - toward the setting sun while congregants face east toward the rising sun - a symbol of Christ's ascension into heaven.

The main body, or nave, of the cathedral is usually divided into one main, and two side aisles. These lead up to the north and south transepts, or arms of the cross, the shape in which a cathedral is traditionally set out.

chancel - part of the altar for the clergy or choir, bordered by railings.

chapels - the recesses on the sides of aisles in cathedrals and abbey churches. Sometimes known as chantries.

Chapter House - administrative center of a cathedral, traditionally organized for overseeing construction.
choir - the area of the main altar where services are sung, located between the crossing and the apse.

choir screen - decorated screen of wood or stone separating the choir from the rest of the cathedral.


cinquefoil - in tracery, having five pendants in a circular ring; usually applied to windows and panels. See also tracery.

clerestory - 'clear story, ' the upper story of a church where it rises above the aisle roof. Window openings, usually of stained glass, allow extra light into the interior.

cloister (Lat. claustrum) - an inner courtyard or central square closed by the four sides of a monastery sometimes situated on the south side of a cathedral. The walkway, or ambulatory, is usually protected by a roof supported by columns.
column - a cylindrical support, usually capped by a decorated capital. See also wreathed column.

corbel - a projecting bracket, sometimes carved and decorated, used to help support weight from above.

crocket - a small ornament projecting from the sloping angles of pinnacles, spires, etc., typically depicting stylized foliage.

crossing - intersection of the nave, transepts & chancel.
crypt - area below the cathedral traditionally reserved for burial chambers.
dripstone - a small, sometimes decorated stone incorporated into door or window jambs to throw rain water clear of the opening.
embattlements - A parapet with indentations or embrasures as seen here, at left, capping a medieval town gate.

embattled molding - having indentions like those of a battlement.

fan tracery vaulting - a system of ceiling vaulting with all ribs having the same curve, resembling the folds of a fan.

finial - the top or finishing stone of a pinnacle.

flying buttress - a buttress arched over at the top to engage with a main wall. A principal feature of Gothic architecture, lending strength and solidity to the main structure.

gablet - a gable-shaped stone that crowns a buttress.

Galilee porch - a porch at the western end of a church or cathedral; a biblical reference to Christ leading his disciples after the resurrection into Galilee.

gargoyle - a spout usually carved in the shape of an animal or demon, and connected to a gutter for throwing rain water from the roof of a building. See Gothic Field Guide Spotlight.

green man - an ancient symbol of man's deep connection to nature; a decorative Gothic carving characterized by a human face sprouting foliage.

grotesque - a carving usually of a demon, dragon, or half human/half animal, serving no utilitarian purpose. Often confused with gargoyles.

impost - the row of stones on which an arch rests.

jamb - the stones forming the side of a door or window.

jamb figures - located on either side of the main portal door; the first carved figures a visitor meets on a visit to a Gothic cathedral. Traditionally depicting Old Testament prophets or martyred saints.

keystone - the central stone of an arch that locks the other units in place. See voussoir.

Lancet arch - a Gothic pointed arch usually applied to long, narrow windows. See arch.

Lady chapel - the easternmost chapel of a cathedral, intended for quiet contemplation and the occasional special service.

misericord (Lt. mercy)- pivoting wooden seats in choir stalls. They were lifted up to provide relief for clergy who had to stand during long church services. Misericords are often highly carved.

newel - the supporting upright pillar around which winding steps, or winders, are supported; typically found in cathedral and castle architecture of the Middle Ages.

niche (Fr. a nest) - a recess in a wall for the reception of a statue.

oculus - a small circular or eye-shaped window.

ogee - the "s" shaped molding that universally typifies Gothic. See also arch.

Oriel window - appearing in chapels, public and private houses in the Gothic style, a window that projects from the outer face of a wall and supported by corbels. Also known as a bay window.

Perpendicular style - the name given to late 15th century English Gothic architecture as lines became longer and carving more elaborate. Also know as Flamboyant style.
pew - wooden seats or benches to seat the congregation, appearing only toward the end of the medieval period.

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