Short glossary of architectural terms.
Abacus; uppermost section of a capital.
Aedicule; (lit. small building) architectural niche, like a miniature framing facade.
Aisle; side section of church, generally divided off from the main body by arches.
Altar; consecrated raised table for priest’s ritual use; Roman Catholic law proscribed timber, whereas protestants anathematised stone.
Apse; termination to a chapel on a semi-circular plan.
Ashlar; finely cut building stone.
Capital; the head of a column.
Chancel; eastern section of parish church, historically housing the main altar.
Chantry; endowment paying for masses to be said for souls; a chantry chapel sometimes being built to house its monument and altar or a college formed of priests legally bound to such a function.
Clerestory; row of high level windows to light a church.
College; legally bound body, often primarily with a chantry function in the middle ages.
Column; generally formed of a base, a shaft and a capital, columns are used both decoratively and structurally in churches.
Communion table; unconsecrated table used for celebration of protestant Holy Communion.
Corbel; a projecting block designed as a support, often ornately carved.
Credence; small table or shelf in chancel used for preparing communion
Crenellation; battlements, parapet made up of crenels (voids) and merlons (solids).
Cross slab; stone coffin lid tomb slab carved with relief of a cross or similar pattern in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.
Dado; waist-high section of a wall or screen.
Dentil; (lit. tooth) classical decorative moulding, like a row of square teeth.
Doom; wall painting of the Last Judgement, often shown over the chancel arch with Christ seated above the dead rising from their graves to be judged, with the blessed going to the Heavenly City and the damned through the mouth of Hell
Dripstop or dripstone; decorated feature at end of dripmould or label.
Dripmould; moulding over arch to throw off rain water, later used decoratively inside churches.
Entablature; horizontal grouping of classical mouldings, made up of an architrave, frieze and cornice; used over openings and along the tops of walls.
Fan vaulting; variant of vaulting (q.v.) in which the ribs are integral with the surface, carved as blind tracery onto intersecting concave ashlar cones
Feretory; area of church housing shrine, often behind high altar in great churches.
Fleuron; small carved flower, often used multiply inside mouldings.
Hatchment; diamond shaped achievement of arms used at funeral and displayed in churches.
Headstop; see dripstop.
Holy communion; central ritual of protestant churches, a ceremonial re-enactment of the Last Supper during which the congregation partakes of bread and wine in memory of Christ.
Hood mould; see drip mould.
Label; straight horizontal drip mould most popular in Tudor times.
Lancet; tall thin window with acutely pointed head, generally thirteenth century.
Ledger or ledgerstone; big black marble memorial slab, often relief carved with heraldic arms and set into floor of church in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Lierne; short unstructural vaulting rib, often in centre of web and used to make stellar patterns.
Lychgate; Porch at entrance to graveyard, where the corpse or lych rested on way to burial.
Mass; central mystical ritual of the Roman Catholic church, at which wine and bread are believed to become the actual blood and body of Christ.
Memento mori; Latin for “remember you will die”, used to describe any symbol reminiscent of the inevitability of death.
Nave; main body of church built to hold the congregation.
Ogee; double curve or S-shaped moulding, most popular from around 1300 until 1500.
Pediment; formalised gable end, used in Classical architecture over porticoes, windows and doors.
Piscina; stone sink near altar for washing the chalice during mass, often in an ornate niche.
Poppyhead; carved decorative finial on a bench end, from the French word for puppet.
Putto; (pl. putti), cherub
Reredos; back wall behind altar, sometimes niched to take statues.
Respond; end support of an arcade, often a flanking demi column carrying one half of an arch.
Retable; carved or painted altarpiece.
Retrochoir; area of greater churches running across behind main altar and feretory.
Rood; cross or crucifix, often with attendant figures of the Virgin and St. John. Until the Reformation, every church displayed a central rood over the chancel arch , often on a rood loft over the rood screen, but both rood and loft became illegal in Elizabethan times.
Sedilia; seats near altar for clergy and helpers at mass, often with ornate canopies.
Screen; structure used to separate areas of differing usage within the church. Generally of timber, with a solid dado (q.v.) below an open framed upper section that often carried a loft on decorated coving.
Soffit;(lit.ceiling), underside of arch.
Spandrel; triangular space flanking an arch.
Stalls; seats with arm rests in the chancel, now often used by the choir.
Stiffleaf; stiff stalked trefoil leafed foliage of the thirteenth century often found on capitals.
Strapwork; carved flat interlaced ribbonwork found on late Elizabethan and Jacobean tombs.
String course; horizontal stone moulding .
Stucco; (lit. plaster) in modern usage this generally refers to external plasterwork.
Tierceron; unstructural vaulting rib springing from corner of vault to the crown.
Tracery; pattern of ribs in the head of a window, or used blind in vaulting etc.
Transept; transverse areas in a cruciform church; the arms on the plan, built to house side altars.
Triforium; wall passage in church above main arches but below the clerestory.
Vaulting; ceiling formed of arches; generally of stone, or a timber imitation. Most mediaeval vaults were formed of two intersecting pointed tunnels, with ribs running along the intersections or over the surface for structural or decorative reasons.
Volute; scroll shaped moulding.
Weatherboarding; overlapping horizontal boarding , often painted black or white, used to weatherproof walls of buildings.
Weepers; small figures along the sides of chest tombs, sometimes mourners or relatives of the deceased.
Hertfordshire specific books.
N. Pevsner / B. Cherry . Buildings of England Hertfordshire, 1950/1977. Still the best; roll on the new update, long overdue.
N. Pevsner / B. Cherry . Buildings of England London 4: North , 1998. The updated Pevsners are a must, with so much more information. Plans and maps are a particular boon.
R.M. Healey. Hertfordshire, a Shell guide 1982. Excellent general guide to the county, with atmospheric detail.
E. Roberts. A school of masons in 15th century north Hertfordshire.1979. / Thomas Wolvey, mason. Archaeological journal, 1972. Two excellent monographs, full of well researched detail and intelligent speculation.
A. Mee. Hertfordshire, the King’s England 1939. Dated , but full of good stories.
A. Jones. Hertfordshire, a Shire guide 1993. Limited, but good for an overview.
J. Whitelaw. Hertfordshire churches 1990. Useful if you need a bare list of all the churches in the county.
M. Harrison. Victorian stained glass. Good, but needs expanding.
R. Gunnis. Dictionary of British sculptors, 1660-1851. Superb, fairly accurate.
H. Colvin. Biographical dictionary of British architects, 1600-1840. Even better, totally trustworthy.
F. Bond. All of his O.U.P. English church art series, c.1910, which knock most modern books into a cocked hat.
http://www.british-history.ac.uk/ History online. Brilliant access to all sorts of topological histories, such as the V.C.H. and the 1910 Inventory of historical monuments. A real treasure trove.
http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/ Listed buildings register. Useful, but very limited.
http://www.churchplansonline.org/ Lambeth palace library, church restorations and plans. Patchy coverage.
https://maps.google.co.uk/ Google maps. Great for finding churches, travel information, and even checking details of the surroundings on Streetmap.
All rights reserved for this entire site. Copyright reserved to stiffleaf for all text and images, which may not be reproduced without my permission.