A Glossary of Gothic Terms

ambulatory - aisleway surrounding the choir on the east end of a Cathedral. 
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 three most common Gothic arches are the Equilateral, Lancet and Tudor.  

equilateral   arch
Earthlore Gothic Cathedrals: Apse 
the apse
apse - particular to the East end of Cathedrals, the Apse is a semi-circular form serving as a culmination. The Apse, generally domed, will often form the Altar. The term is derived from the Medieval Latin: absis or apsis. 

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.


gothic capital

cathedral - (cathedra, seat or throne) the principal church of a province or diocese, where the throne of the bishop is placed. For reasons lost to time and tradition, a cathedral always faces west - toward the setting sun. The altar is placed at the  

east end. 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 usually formed.   

chapels - the recesses on the sides of aisles in cathedrals and abbey churches. Sometimes known as chantries.  
choir   - the section of a Cruciform Cathedral located between the Nave and the main Altar. By definition: the place where the psalms are sung. Loosely used to define the whole East end of a cathedral, and as a synonym for Chancel.  
cinquefoil - in tracery, having five pendants in a circular ring; usually applied to windows and panels. See trifoil, quatrafoil and multifoil
cloister (Lat. claustrum) - an inner courtyard or central square closed by the four sides of a monastery. The walkway, or ambulatory, is usually protected by a roof supported by columns.  
crocket -  a small ornament projecting from the sloping angles of pinnacles, spires, etc., typically depicting stylized foliage.  

cruciform - in the shape of a Christian crucifix 

dripstone - also know as a label or hood mold, usually arched over doors and windows to throw rain water clear of the opening.
embattled  molding 
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 what would otherwise be soaring, but fragile, construction. 

Although the Romans had been working on using buttresses to free up window space, gothic architects were the ones who started using flying buttresses to relieve walls of the downward and outward force of the elaborate stone roofs.  

The flying buttress looks like a rib which sticks into, instead of sticking inside, a wall. It reinforces the wall where the wall needs the help most.   


flying buttresses

gablet - a gable-shaped stone that crowns a buttress.  
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.  
green man - a symbolic, decorative, 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.



jamb figures
impost - the row of stones on which an arch rests.  
jambs - the stones forming the side of a door or window.  

jamb figures - located on either side of the west front 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 voussoirs.  

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

Lady chapel - the easternmost chapel of a cathedral, consecrated to the Blessed Virgin Mary,  intended for quiet contemplation and occasional special services.  


Earthlore Gothic Dreams: Virgin Mary 
The Blessed Virgin 

medieval - of the Middle Ages, arguably 1100 - 1650.  
mullions - stone piers dividing a window into two or more lights.  
nave (Lat. a ship) - the main body of a church or cathedral. Sometimes defined as the central aisle only.  
newel - the supporting upright pillar around which winding steps, or winders, are supported; typically found in cathedral and castle architecture of the Middle Ages.   
newel, center,  
supporting winders
Oriel window
niche (Fr. a nest) - a recess in a wall for the reception of a statue.  
ogee - an "s" shaped molding usually  seen in Gothic architecture.  

Oriel window - usually seen 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.  
Pier - the solid standing piers serve as the main support to the heavy strain of the Gothics vertical aspirations. The piers take on many shapes (rounded, cross and rectangular) but will also take the form of a segment of wall. The term derives from the Norman French: piere or pere. 
pinnacle - a slender, pointed summit placed on top of buttresses, gables, etc.  
plate tracery - the simplest, earliest form of tracery, ca. 1300.  

porch - a projecting, enclosed doorway, usually a side entrance located at the north and south transepts of a cathedral.   

quadrapartite vaults
rectanuglar bays
quadrapartite elevation - four story elevation used in Early Gothic. This elevation hast an additional gallery above the nave. 
quadrapartite vaulting - High and Late Gothic vaulting in 4 sections.  
quatrafoil - tracery constructed from four foils. See cinquefoil.  

quoin - a corner stone.  

rectangular bay system - an organizational floor plan that places a rectangular unit in the nave, each defined by its own vault and a square unit in the side aisles. 
rose window - a circular window with heavily foliated tracery branching out from a common center.  

Rose window
sexpartite vaulting - early Gothic vaulting sectioned into 6 parts. 

sexpartite vault

springer - the horizontal stone which the first arch stone rests upon, or springs from.  

stained glass  - brightly coulored glass broken and welded together to form picture windows.

tracery- Stone trace-like supports found on stained glass windows Tracery was developed mainly in British cathedrals. What it was was stone designs placed inside window frames to ensure more attention was given to the windows of the building than the conservatively designed interior walls. Tracery in its later uses made S-shaped ogees which made windows look flame-like and passionate. . 
transepts - in cathedral architecture, the north and south projections or "arms" of the cross. See cathedral.  
trifoil - tracery in three foils.  
tripartite elevation- Three story elevation, constisting of  nave arcade, triforium and clerestory, used in High and Late Gothic. 

tympanum - a panel above a main portal, or doorway, usually heavily decorated.  

voussoir - a wedge-shaped stone that makes up an arch. The center voussoir is the keystone.  

wreathed columns - those twisted in the shape of a screw.  
zigzag - an ornamental molding in both Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Also known as dancette or chevron molding.  



wreathed column


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