Lake District Directory from

Glossary of Church Terms


Listing the churches in the directory was never intended to become such a huge task. Originally my thoughts were only to include some of the more interesting churches I happen to pass when I'm out walking, such as Martindale's old church, Wythburn and Ulpha. As time went on though, I gradually began to add more and more until I finally gave in and decided to visit every church found within the Lake District to take photos and if possible to gather some information about them.
With all the information I was beginning to read about a subject that was new to me, I regularly had to find out what certain words actually meant. To make things easier for myself I began to list them, and as a result, ended up with this comprehensive glossary of terms.

Abbot's Lodging - Rooms set aside for use by the abbot.

Aisle - Area of church separated by an arcade of columns or piers.

Altar- The holiest part of a church. In the medieval period the altar was a table or rectangular slab made of stone or marble, often set upon a raised step. After the Reformation the stone altars were replaced by wooden communion tables.

Ambulatory- Semicircular or polygonal aisle which encloses an apse, often provided so that worshippers can walk round an altar or shrine.

Anglican- Relating to the Church of England, or any church in communion with it.

Apocrypha- Books relating to Jewish history, which were not included in the Bible at Reformation, plus gospels and letters not included in the New Testament.

Apse- The domed or vaulted east end of the church. In Britain the apse is generally squared off, while on the continent, rounded apses were common.

Arcade- A row of arches on columns or piers; where attached to a wall instead of free-standing it is a blind arcade.

Archbishop- A chief bishop of a region within the Church of England; for instance the Archbishops of Canterbury, and York

Architrave- The horizontal block between columns or piers that spans the area between them.

Ashlar- Carefully dressed masonry.

Baluster- A small column or pillar, often, but not necessarily, wider in the centre than at the extremities. Also called a baluster shaft.

Baptism (Christening)- The rite of immersing a person in, or sprinkling their forehead with water, in order to admit them as members of the church. It is also generally accompanied by name-giving.

Baptistery- Where the font was stored and baptisms were performed, generally near the west door. Sometimes a screen or grille separates the baptistery from the nave.

Bay- A vertical division, usually marked by vertical shafts or supporting columns.

Barrow- A burial mound.

Basilica- Term originally used to describe a Roman town hall, but later to describe a rectangular hall-like building, normally with a roof supported by two or more arcades (ie aisled).

Beehive corbelling- A technique of producing a dome-like vault by oversailing courses of masonry. Frequently used for Celtic monastic cells.

Bellcote- A turret, usually at the west end of a church, to carry bells.

Bell Tower- A tower where the church bells were installed. This could be separate from the church, or, more usually, attached. Sometimes called a campanile.

Bible- The Holy Book for Christians, also known as the Word of God. It contains scriptures which relate Jewish history and also the life of Christ and the works of his followers.

Bishop- Leading clergyman who acts as governor of a diocese, and has the power to confirm members of the church, as well as to ordain priests. The bishop often (but not always!) wears a mitre, or pointed hat.

Boss- A stone projection or knob, often used to ornament the intersection of ribs in a vault.

Buttress- A mass of brickwork built against a wall to carry the thrust and provide strength.

Cable moulding- Moulding imitating twisted cord

Capital- A capital cut from a square block with the low angles rounded off to the column below. Also called a block capital. Decorated Term used to describe a style of English Gothic architecture current c. 1300-50.

Cell- A small chamber or room, often used of the small detached buildings that are found in Celtic monasteries.

Chamfer- Surface produced by cutting across a square angle of a block at 45ΓΈ to the other surfaces.

Chancel- The eastern end of a church.

Chancel Arch- the arch separating the chancel from the nave or crossing.

Chancel Screen- a screen dividing the chancel and the nave and crossing.

Chapel- a small building or room set aside for worship. Large churches or cathedrals might have many chapels dedicated to different saints. A chantry chapel is a special chapel where prayers for the dead are said.

Chapter House- a special room or house where the governing body of a monastery or cathedral met. In Britain the chapter house is usually polygonal in shape with a slender central column supporting the roof.

Chevet- style of construction creating an ambulatory and radiating chapels at the eastern arm of a church.

Chevron- Zig-zag pattern, normally on carved moulding.

Choir- Group of singers who perform or lead music during church services; also a section of the church behind the central altar, which often contains wooden stalls, where the choir used to sit.

Church- Most people think of a church as the building in which we meet to worship God. In fact it more accurately refers to a body of people.

Claustral buildings- Pertaining to the cloister.

Clerestory- the upper story of a church where it rises above the aisle roof. Window openings allow extra light into the interior of the church.

Cloister- A covered passage around a quadrangle at the side of the church.

Confessio- A niche for relics located near the altar.

Confirmation- This is the act of confirming on your own behalf, the promises made by your parents and godparents at your baptism. During this service, which is lead by the bishop, candidates are formally admitted as Christians and members of the church.

Congregation- This is the group of people who come together to worship God and his son Jesus Christ.

Corbel- Block of stone projecting from a wall, usually to support a beam, or some other feature.

Crossing- the area where the choir, nave, and transepts meet.

Crucifix (Cross)- A crucifix is an image of Christ on the cross. Crucifixion was a cruel method of execution used by the Romans, which involved a person being tied to a wooden cross and left to die of hunger, thirst and exposure to the elements.

Crypt- A vaulted chamber made to house graves and relics, generally located beneath the chancel. Many crypts were very large, to allow numbers of pilgrims access.

Curtain- A connecting wall between towers.

Decorated- Term applied to style of English Gothic architecture c. 1275-1340, in which there was an increasing use of decoration.

Diocese- A church district, which is controlled by a bishop.

Disciple- One of Christ's personal followers, and in particular one of the original twelve

Dorter- Monastic dormitory.

Drystone- Built without mortar.

Dyke- A bank, often used to describe a linear rampart. Early English Term used to describe a style of English Gothic architecture, roughly covering the period 1200-1300.

Early English- Term applied to the first part of the Gothic style of architecture which flourished c. 1180-1275.

Epistles- The epistles are letters written mainly by Paul, but also by other disciples to early churches located throughout the eastern Mediterranean. They are continued within the New Testament of the Bible.

Eucharist (Communion)- The Lord's supper, or ceremony where members of the church consume bread and wine in remembrance of Christ's death for our sins. The wine symbolises his blood and the bread represents his body.

Font- To become a member of the church you must be baptised. So at the back of the church you will find the font. This is filled with water for this important ceremony in which people renounce evil and turn to Christ. Our font is used mostly for infant baptisms, where the vicar pours holy water from the font onto the foreheads of the children and gives them God's blessing, before marking them with the sign of the cross and welcoming them into the church.

Frater- Monastic refectory or dining hall.

Galilee- a porch at the western end of the church used as a chapel for women or penitents. Sometimes the word refers to the entire western end of the nave.

Garderobe- Individual lavatory or privy.

Gatehouse- A building at the entrance to the monastic grounds.

Gnomen- The metal (or wood) finger on a sun dial

Gospels- The gospels are glad tidings preached by Christ. The teachings of Christ and the story of his life are told in the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which are to be found in the New Testament.

Gothic- A style of architecture which flourished in Western Europe between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries. In England it included Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular styles.

Graveslab- A tombstone intended for laying flat on a grave. Greek key Geometric pattern

Greek-cross Plan- style of church with four equal arms.

Grubenhaus- Sunken-floor hut popular in Britain and on the Continent in the pagan Saxon period, but continuing in use later.

Guesthouse- Buildings set aside for visitors to the monastery

Guilloche- Geometric pattern.

Herringbone- Type of masonry in which the stones are set in a zig-zag pattern.

Hogback- Type of tombstone in the form of the hipped roof of a shrine or church, which bears a superficial resemblance to a hog's back (the shingles looking like bristles).

Hood moulding- Projecting moulding above an arch or lintel, normally intended to throw off water (sometimes called dripstone)

Icon- An icon is a religious painting, image or statue, usually of a saint, disciple, or other holy person. The tradition of painting icons came from the Eastern church and is most strongly observed in orthodox churches. They are intended to draw the worshipper into the reality of the church as the Body of Christ.

Impost- Bracket in a wall, often moulded, on which the end of an arch rests.

In situ- In its original position.

Inhabited vinescroll- Type of ornament popular in Northumbria, in which birds and beasts are disposed in a panel of stylized vine ornament, often pecking or biting the fruit.

Interlace- A pattern made by intertwining a ribbon in and out of itself. Zoomorphic interlace is created when the ribbon takes the form of an animal's body.

Jamb- The straight side of a door, arch or window.

Lacertine- An animal with ribbon-like body used in zoomorphic interlace.

Latin-cross Plan- church plan with one arm longer than the other three.

Lavatory / Lavatorium- Trough where monks washed hands before meals.

Leacht- An outdoor altar made from a pile of stones, normally square, which may mark a special grave.

Lectern- A reading desk, often in the shape of an eagle, made to hold the Bible during services. Usually made of brass.

Light- A window opening.

Lintel- A horizontal beam or stone bridging an opening.

Longhouse- A building with dwelling area and byre under the same roof-alignment, usually separated by a cross-passage. The commonest type of Viking house.

Manus Dei- Literally 'the hand of God'. Visual symbol in the form of a hand emanating from a cloud representing God.

Midwall shaft- A shaft dividing a window of two lights, which is placed exactly centrally in the wall.

Minster- The church in a monastery; a church of major importance in the region.

Misericord- from the Latin word for "mercy" comes this term which refers to pivoting wooden brackets in choir stalls which lifted up to provide relief for clergy who had to stand during long church services. Misericords are often ornately carved and decorative.

Monolithic- Made of one stone.

Narthex- Enclosed vestibule or covered porch at the entrance to a church.

Nativity- Nativity relates to the birth of the baby Jesus at the first Christmas

Nave- The nave is the main body of the church, and generally it is the area where the congregation sits. It is separated from the aisles by pillars.

Newel- Central post in a circular staircase.

Norman- Used in England as a synonym for 'Romanesque', it covers the style of architecture current between 1066-1200.

Oratory- A chapel without an altar.

Organ- The organ provides the musical accompaniment in most churches. It is operated by means of keyboards and pedals and sounds are made by expelling air through pipes.

Orientation- the compass alignment of the church. The altar is usually oriented to the east.

Parapet- A low wall intended to protect a sudden drop, for example on a church or house top.

Pelta- A curvilinear shape, derived from that of a Roman shield.

Perpendicular- A style of English Gothic architecture current between c. 1350-1530.

Pew- wooden seats or benches in the church. Pews only appeared at the end of the medieval period. Often pews had carved bench-ends and were carved with animal or foliage designs.

Pier- A mass of stonework or brickwork, usually of square section, which serves as a support instead of a column.

Pilaster- A shallow pier attached to a wall.

Pinnacle- A small turret at the upward termination of a buttress, wall or roof, etc.

Plinth- The projecting base of a wall or column. Pointed In English Gothic architecture, First Pointed is a style current in the Early English period.

Porticus- A side chapel or chapels. In the early Anglo-Saxon church it was not permitted for burials to be made in the body of the church, but they were allowed in the flanking chapels or porticus.

Prayer- Prayer means talking to God, to thank him for the good things we enjoy, to ask him for help when we need it, and to ask for his forgiveness when we do something wrong.

Presbytery- Part of the church around the high altar to the east of the choir.

Pulpit- This is the raised platform from which traditionally readings were given in church and the vicar would preach his sermon.

Quoin- The corner of a building; also used of the individual stones (dressed) making up the corner.

Rebate- A recess cut in wood or stone to take the edge of another member that is to be secured in it.

Relieving arch- An arch constructed above a door or window to take the thrust of the masonry. Renaissance The first period of classical revival, usually taken to begin c. 1453. Architecture influenced by it.

Reredos- a decorative screen behind the altar, usually highly carved.

Respond- Half-pier bonded into a wall and carrying one end of an arch.

Resurrection- Christians believe that Jesus died and was buried, but on the third day he rose again from the dead, in order to save us from our sins. The resurrection is commemorated each Easter Sunday, when we celebrate the good news of Jesus resurrection

Retable- ledge behind, or attached to, the high altar, where ornaments were placed.

Retro-choir- the area immediately behind the high altar

Reveal- The part of the jamb which lies between the door (or glass, in a window) and the outer wall surface.

Revetment- A facing of stone or timber in a rampart to stop it collapsing or eroding.

Ring-chain- A type of ornament popular in Anglo-Danish times.

Ringwork- A type of circular earthwork consisting of rampart and external ditch broken by an entrance. Constructed mainly by the Normans in Britain. Romanesque In England called Norman, a style of architecture influenced by the Roman. Current in the eleventh to twelfth centuries. Some Anglo-Saxon architecture is called, misleadingly, pre-Conquest Romanesque.

Rood- a cross erected at the entry to the chancel. Roods often had figures of the Virgin Mary on one side and St. John on the other.

Rood Loft- the gallery upon which the rood is supported

Rood Screen- a screen built beneath the rood loft.

Rose Window- Circular window with radiating tracery resembling spokes in a wheel.

Rune- Alphabet of twig-like signs used by both the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings. Variant forms exist.

Sacristy- A separate room for storing sacred vessels.

Saint- A saint is a holy person who is recognised by the Church as having won a high place in heaven and veneration on earth because of their lives and actions. Many of the early saints were put to death for their beliefs. More recent saints are often remembered for their good works, self sacrifice and sometimes for miracles.

Sanctuary- Where the high altar is placed. The holiest part of the church.

Scalloped- capital Type of capital in which the semi-circular surface is carved into a series of truncated cones.

School- A term used in art history to denote a group of artists working in a similar style or tradition.

Screen- A partition (of stone or wood). A rood screen was at the western end of the chancel, below a rood. A 'parclose screen' separated the rest of the church from a chapel.

Scriptorium- A place where manuscripts were copied.

Shrine- A structure of stone or metal in which a relic of a saint was placed.

Spindle whorl- A round weight, used to make the spindle revolve more readily and smoothly in spinning with a hand distaflf.

Splay- A chamfer, usually on the jamb of a window.

Squint- A hole cut in a wall or pier to allow the main altar to be viewed from where it otherwise could not be seen.

Stalls- divisions within the choir, where clergy sat (or stood) during service. The stalls are often richly carved and fitted with misericords to help the clergy stand comfortably during long services.

Stations of the Cross- The stations of the cross depict the story of Jesus's last journey through the old city of Jerusalem to the place of crucifixion, to his death and resurrection.

Stoup- a container for holy water near the west door. Can be built into the wall or free-standing.

String course- A projecting band or moulding set horizontally in a wall.

Testament- The Bible is divided into two main sections: The Old Testament, which tells the history of the Jewish people and relates the teachings of its prophets; and The New Testament, which relates the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection, as well as the teachings and lives of his apostles.

Tower- A tall structure generally set above the crossing of the church or the west front

Tracery- Decorative open patterns in the stonework at the heads of Gothic windows, etc.

Transepts- the crossing arms of the church, generally aligned north-south

Transitional- A period of architecture which marked the period between the Norman and Gothic styles when both were inter mingling. Late twelfth to early thirteenth centuries

Tread- The flat part of a step.

Triforium- a galleried arcade at the second floor level, even with the aisle roof. Also called a "blind-storey" - the triforium looks like a row of window frames without window openings.

Tympanum- The space between the lintel of a doorway and the arch above it. Often sculptured.

Undercroft- Basement of a building.

Unicameral- Single-roomed or -celled.

Vallum- A bank. Used to describe the enclosure bank of an early Christian church or monastery.

Vault- An arched, stone roof.

Vestry- Room where the clergy and choir dress and the vestments are kept.

Volute- Spiral scroll.

Voussoir- Wedge-shaped stone used in an arch.

Warming house- A communal room in the monastery where a fire was allowed.

Worship- Coming together to praise God and to thank him for all his blessings on us.

David Hall -
Lake District Walks