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Letter "A" Glossary

abacus — The square slab located as the uppermost element of the capital of a column; sometimes molded or otherwise decorated, and supporting the architrave.

abbey — An independent and canonically erected monastery, ruled by an abbot if occupied by monks and by an abbess if occupied by nuns.

abbey church — The main church of an abbey constituting one part of the building complex that may also include cloisters and assembly rooms (chapter houses). Abbey churches are usually designed to accommodate any special liturgical requirements of the monks or nuns.

abutment — Masonry mass designed to support and receive the thrust of arches, vaults, or trusses.
acanthus capital - The capital of a column characterized by a decorative motif based on the deeply serrated and scalloped leaves of the acanthus plant (found throughout the Mediterranean world) and typical of the Corinthian Order in Classical architecture. More stylized and abstracted versions of the acanthus leaf are found in medieval architecture.

alabaster — Fine-grained marble-like variety of gypsum.

ambo — In Early Christian churches, pulpits in the nave for reading the Gospels or the Epistles.

andachstbild (pl. andachtsbilder, German for "devotional image") — A highly emotive devotional image, sculpture or painting, developing during the thirteenth century and used for private devotional purposes.

aniconic — The absence of figural representations of divine or religious figures; worship of objects or images symbolizing but not representing the likeness of a divine or religious figure. In Byzantine art, the Iconoclastic Controversy (e.g. destruction of images) during the 8th and 9th centuries resulted in the destruction or removal of images representing religious figures.

aisles — Longitudinal passageway located to either side of the nave (central space) or transept of a basilican church plan

altar — church furnishing consisting of a table or rectangular box-like structure at which the celebration of the Eucharist or other religious services are performed. The main altar is placed in the apse or hemicycle of a Christian basilica. Chapels may also contain altars. The altar table may contain an altarpiece, a painted or sculpted mage or group of images representing Christian subjects.

altarpiece — religious images on, above, or behind the altar of a Christian church. Altarpieces may be paintings or sculpture or a combination of the two media. Formats include the diptych (two panels or wings) or triptych (a central image with side panels or wings). The predella is composed of a box-like supporting structure often decorated with images such as scenes from the life of Christ or the saints represented in the altarpiece.

alternating support system — A system of structural support for an arcade or colonnade in the nave, transept or choir of a church using two different types of upright members, e.g. columns and piers, in an alternating a-b-a-b-a arrangement.

ambulatory — The passageway surrounding the apse or hemicycle located at the east end of a basilican church plan. Chapels located along the outer perimeter of the ambulatory are sometimes referred to as radiating chapels.

apostles — The prime missionaries of Christianity and adherents of Christ. The apostles of the first rank are saints Peter, Andrew, James (the Greater), John, Thomas, James (the Less), Jude (or Thaddaeus), Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon, and Matthias (replacing Judas Iscariot).

applied column, colonette or shaft — A column, colonette or shaft partly embedded or bonded to a supporting structure.

apse — The semicircular or polygonal space containing the high altar located at the east end of a basilican church plan.

apses en echelon — Semicircular or polygonal spaces located at the east end of a basilican church plan arranged in a hieratic order.

apsidioles — Small apses, especially those which project from a larger apse, ambulatory or transept arm.

arcade — a series of round or pointed arches supported by a row of columns or piers.

arch — A structural element spanning an opening, round-headed or pointed, resting on columns or piers, designed to transfer the vertical thrust of a roofing system (usually stone vaults) to either side of the opening.

architrave — The lowermost horizontal element spanning the space between columns (intercolumniation). In a classical entablature (upper structure), the architrave rests directly on the capitals of the supporting columns.

archivolt — Molded, shaped or decorated bands around an arch which may be arranged in a series framing a tympanum. In Gothic architecture, archivolts are often decorated with sculptured figures of angels (cherubim and seraphim).

atrium — An open courtyard or vestibule located before the principal entrance of a church, sometimes surrounded by covered aisles. The atrium of the Early Christian church was originally a place for the catechumens (people awaiting initiation into the faith of the church) to wait during the celebration of the Eucharist.

axial chapel — A chapel located on the main west-east axis of a church building. The apse of a basilican church plan may be referred to as an axial chapel.

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