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Letter "B" Glossary

baldacchino — A canopy usually constructed over important church furnishings or monuments such as altars, tombs and thrones to highlight or accentuate the object. Also called baldachins or altar canopies.

baptismal font A basin or receptacle holding water for use during the ritual act of baptism. Baptismal fonts, usually located in the baptistry, may be made of stone or metal (bronze) and may be decorated with abstract or figural scenes such as the Baptism of Christ.

baptistry — A space dedicated to the ritual act of baptism and containing a baptismal font. The baptistry may be a dedicated space incorporated into the overall structure of the church or a separate building such as the baptistry in the cathedral complex at Pisa.

bar tracery — Thin stone openwork of molded mullions that divide a window into segments in decorative patterns, common in the clerestory and rose widows of Gothic churches.

barrel vault — Round-headed stone vault supported by parallel walls or arcades. Also called a tunnel vault.

base of a column — The lowermost element at the bottom of a column or pier.

basilica — Church design characterized by a cruciform plan divided into a nave with two or more side aisles, the nave higher and wider than the aisle and lit by clerestory windows, the whole structure usually terminated by an apse. The basic components of the plan are derived from a form of Roman civic architecture, e.g. the Basilica Ulpia. Most Christian basilicas are oriented in an east-west direction with the apse at the east end and the principal entrance at the west end.

bas relief — Sculptural technique in which the projection of the forms from the background is relatively shallow. Also called low relief.

basket capital — Capitals designed with a surface pattern of interlaced bands resembling the weave of a basket, characteristic of Byzantine architecture beginning in the sixth century.

battlement — Fortified parapets (low walls along the topmost section of a fortification) with alternating solid and open sections designed for defensive maneuvers during an armed attack.

bay system — A modular unit of architectural division usually defined by repeating elements such as columns, piers, pilasters or vaults.

bead and reel — A decorative molding composed of oval forms alternating with round or elongated bead-shaped motifs. Originating in Classical Greek and Roman architecture, the design was used frequently in medieval buildings.

beak head — An ornamental motif designed as a bird's head with a prominent beak, often found in Norman and English Romanesque architectural decoration.

beak head molding — Decorative moldings composed of bird, animal, or human heads biting a roll molding, often found in Norman and English Romanesque architecture.

belfry — The rooms or spaces within a bell tower actually containing the bells.

bema — Specifically, a raised platform used by an orator or priest to address an assembly. In a broader context, the term may also refer to the entire apse of chancel of a church, generally used in reference to Early Christian and Byzantine church architecture.

billet molding — Moldings formed by a series of regularly spaced cubical or short cylindrical projections usually arranged in multiple rows, and common in Romanesque architecture.

bishop — A high-ranking Christian cleric in charge of a diocese and in some churches regarded as having received the highest ordination in unbroken succession from the apostles. From Old English bisceope, from Vulgar Latin ebiscopus, from Late Latin episcopus, from Late Greek episkopos.

bishopric — Used to designate the office or rank of a bishop or the district or churches under the jurisdiction of a bishop; also called a diocese.

blind arcade — Wall decoration composed of arcades (arches resting on columns or pilasters) set flat against the wall and therefore closed at the back.

blind arch — Arches set flat against a wall surface and therefore closed at the back, serving a decorative function.

block capital — Cubic capitals with the lower angles rounded off to make the transition to a round column. Also called a cushion capital.

book of hours — A prayer book for private devotion containing texts associated with the canonical hours of the day (matins, prime, tierce, sext, nones, vespers, compline).

boss — Ornamental or protective caps placed at the intersection of the ribs of a vault in the nave, aisles and choir of a church to mask the joins of the ribs at the point of intersection. Bosses are often richly carved with foliate or figural designs, including grotesques, and may be painted or gilded for greater visibility.

buttress — Pier-like vertical masonry elements built to strengthen or support walls or resist the lateral thrust of vaults.

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