The Pontifical North American College

Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Terms

ambo: Comes from the Greek word which signifies a raised area; in a church, these are one or two reading desks raised above floor level of the nave.

apse: The area formed by the curved wall behind the altar, often holding seats for the clergy and decorated with marble and mosaics

campanile: A bell tower; in Rome these are often tall and thin, with several levels of arches

ciborium: Also known as a baldacchino; a canopy erected over the altar as a sign of honor and also as protection to prevent debris from falling onto the altar; common in the early Christian and medieval periods

chancel screen: A divider separating the sanctuary from the nave, standing about waist high and usually carved out of marble

clerestory: The highest section of the church wall below the central roof; usually pierced with windows to allow additional light into the nave

confessio: A sunken area directly in front of the high altar of certain churches in which is usually kept a shine, or occasionally a tomb.  The name comes from the Lat. word confessio, which signified the confession of faith made by a martyr in the sacrifice of their life

cosmatesque: Also known as opus alexandrinum; a style of decoration popular in the medieval period which is notable for its use of geometric patterns

façade: the front wall of a church viewed from the outside

Lady chapel: traditional term for a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin

nave: the large open area in the center of the church in which the congregation participates during liturgical ceremonies

opus sectile: A floor pattern created out of simple geometric designs; less complicated in form than cosmatesque designs

porch: A covered area in front of a church, supported by columns on its front

quadriporticus: A four-sided courtyard in front of a church, similar to a cloister; this was a common characteristic of early Christian basilicas

schola cantorum: An enclosed area in front of the sanctuary in which clergy would sit during liturgical services

transept: An aisle which intersects the nave in front of the apse creating a large open area at the sanctuary end of a church

translation: The moving of the relics of a saint from one location to another

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