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Glossary of Common 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 (Frater): 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.

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