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St. Paul's Church, Jarrow, England © 2000 Susan WallaceSt. Paul's Church
Jarrow, England

Abbeys and Priories:
Common Architectural Terms

A glossary of common architectural terms relating to medieval religious houses.

Aisle
The part of a church on either side of the nave, usually separated from it by a row of columns.
Alien priory
A religious establishment, sometimes fully monastic but very often not, owing obedience to a mother-house outside England.
Ambulatory
The walking-place, or aisle, around the east end of a church, behind the high altar and usually giving access to additional chapels.
Apse (Apisdal)
The semicircular termination of a chancel or chapel at its eastern end.
Arcade
A series of columns supporting arches.
Bay
The division of a building, as marked by a unit of roof vaulting, columns, etc.
Blind Arcade
The decorative treatment of a wall by setting blank arches, atop columns, against it.
Capella ante portas
The chapel by the gate of a Cistercian house, for the use of travelers and other visitors.
Chancel
The east end of the church by the high altar, usually reserved for the clergy.
Chantry
A chapel, or just an altar, endowed by its founder with sufficient funds to maintain a priest to sing masses for his soul.
Chapter-house
The chamber, usually centrally placed in the east range of the cloister, where the community met daily to transact business and to receive instruction, including the reading of a chapter of the Rule.
Choir (Quire)
The part of the church, furnished with choir stalls, where services were sung.
Cloister (Claustral)
An open space, usually square and surrounded by an arcaded and roofed passage, for exercise and study.
Corona
The crown of radiating chapels sometimes found at the eastern end of the greater monastic churches.
Crossing
The space in a church where nave, transepts and chancel intersect.
Crypt
The chamber, usually below ground and under the east end of the church, where relics were commonly housed and displayed.
Dormitory (Dorter)
The common sleeping chamber of the monks.
Feretory
A shrine specially constructed to house relics.
Garderobe
A privy or lavatory.
Infirmary (Infirmarer)
A building assigned to the sick.
Lavatorium (Laver)
The wash-place, usually a trough with running water situated in the cloister for the use of the monks before meals.
Misericord
The chamber in a monastery where meat, otherwise not permitted by the Rule, might be taken.
Narthex
The vestibule, also known as a Galilee, at the west end of a church, sometimes taking the form of a porch.
Nave
The western arm of a church, usually its main body west of the crossing.
Presbytery
The eastern arm of a church, east of the choir and containing the high altar.
Pulpitum
A partition or screen separating the monks' choir from the nave.
Refectory
The common eating-chamber of the monks.
Reliquary
A box or other container for relics.
Rere-dorter
A building at the far end of the dormitory from the church, housing the monks' latrines.
Stalls
The monks' seats, often carved and canopied, in the choir.
Transept
The transverse arm, north or south, of a cross-shaped church.
Undercroft
A chamber, frequently vaulted, underlying an important apartment like a dormitory, refectory or chapel.
Vault
An arched roof.
Warming-house
The common chamber, also known as the calefactory, where the monks might warm themselves at the fire.