A Glossary of the Medieval Church

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Calatrava : military monastic order founded in Spain and Portugal in the 12th century

caldarium : in a monastery, a small room containing a fire where inmates can go in to warm themselves

calendar : the annual cycle of religious festivals and saints' days

campanile : a bell tower, usually separated from the main building

canon : 1) member of the secular clergy belonging to a cathedral or collegiate church; 2) a member of the Augustinian or regular canons who lived under semi-monastic rule; the term "secular canon" distinguishes the former

canoness : nun belonging to an Augustinian or related order

canon law : the law of the church, imposed by authority in matters of faith, morals and discipline

canticle : song or prayer, other than a Psalm, derived from the Bible and used in church worship

capital : the head or crowning feature of a column

cardinal : the clergy of Rome who became the immediate advisors of the pope (Latin cardo = hinge)

Carmelite : order of mendicant friars originally founded in Palestine in the 12th century, then reformed in Europe in the 13th century after the failure of the Crusades; also known as the White Friars

Carolingian : referring to the reign of Charlemagne, in the 9th century

cassock: the ordinary garment of a priest; a simple close fitting tunic with sleeves

Carthusian : a monastic order founded in Chartreuse, in France, in the 11th century; a contemplative order whose brethren were bound to vows of silence and renunciation of the world

Cathar : a heretical movement found in Germany, Italy and France in the 11th to 13th centuries, based on a dualist belief in two Gods, one of good and one of evil; also known as Albigensians

cathedra : the throne of a bishop

cathedral : the church which contains the throne, or official seat, of the bishop of the diocese and therefore the "mother church" of the diocese

cell : an individual room in a monastic establishment where one person lived in seclusion

cellarium : the storehouse for provisions

chalice : the cup for holding the wine at the ritual of the Eucharist

chancel : the eastern end of the church containing the high altar, where the mass is celebrated, reserved for the priest, other clergy and choir: may also include an extension of the nave east of the crossing

chancel arch : the arch, generally stone, at the west end of the chancel

chantry chapel : a chapel in which masses for the soul of a dead person are recited

chantry priest : a priest whose function is to say or sing masses for the soul of a dead person in a chantry chapel

chapel : 1) a part of a church with a separate altar, which may be dedicated differently to the church as a whole; 2) a self contained building dedicated to worship, the saying of prayers or the celebration of masses for the dead, but which does not serve the functions of a parish church; 3) a church which serves parochial needs, but which is dependent upon another church within the parish, sometimes called a chapel of ease

chaplain : a priest who was paid an annual wage to serve in a parish church or dependent chapel

chapter : 1) the members of a religious house in their corporate capacity; 2) the members of any corporate body responsible for an ecclesiastical institution; 3) a meeting of the members of a religious institution

chapter house : a place of assembly for the members of a monastery, cathedral or collegiate church, for the discussion of business

chasuble: item of mass vestments; simple loose sleeveless garment with an opening for the head

choir : the part of the church containing the seats for the clergy; usually in the western part of the chancel, but occasionally in the eastern part of the nave

choir stalls : the seating for the clergy in the choir of a church

Christmas : the feast celebrating the birth of Christ, held on 25th December

Cistercian : monastic order derived from the Benedictine, founded as reformed order from the French monastery of Citeaux in the 12th century

clerestory : the upper stage of the main walls of a church, above the aisle roofs, pierced by windows

clergy : any member of Holy Orders, or of a monastic order

clerical : referring to the clergy

cloister : a quadrangle surrounded by roofed or vaulted passages connecting a major church to domestic or ancillary buildings

close : the enclosed precinct of a cathedral or collegiate church

Cluniac : reformed Benedictine order, founded in the 10th century in France

collegiate church : a church served by a body of canons or prebendaries; not housing the throne of a bishop and therefore not a cathedral; served by secular canons rather than monks

column : used to indicate a pillar of any shape, although strictly confined to cylindrical Classical pillars; in Romanesque and Gothic architecture more correctly known as a pier

commandery : monastic house of the military order of Hospitallers

Compline : the last of the day services of divine office, recited before retiring

confession : the rite of confession of sins to a priest in order to obtain absolution; obtaining absolution through confession and penance was considered a sacrament

confirmation : the sacrament which follows baptism in the Christian life cycle, requiring the recipient to affirm their faith in the presence of a bishop

consecration : to make sacred, the separation of a thing or person for divine service; 1) of the Eucharist, the act whereby the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ; 2) of bishops, the conferrring of the character of the office by bishops to another; 3) of altars and churches and sacred vessels, the setting apart of these things exclusively for the service of God

convent : an enclosed and regulated monastic institution

conventual : in the manner of a monastery

Conventuals : members of the Franciscan order advocating change to the original rules on property

conversi : lay converts who had entered the monastic life as adults and were employed in manual labour; also known as lay brothers

cope: item of processional vestments; semi-circular outer cloak

corbel : a carved projecting block, often supporting the springer of a vault

corbel table : a range of projecting blocks, often carved, running below the eaves of a building

Corporal Acts of Mercy : a series of charitable acts which aided the giver to salvation; feeding the hungry, providing drink for the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, visiting prisoners, taking in the traveller and burying the dead

Council : a formal meeting of bishops and representatives of churches convened for the purpose of regulating doctrine or discipline

cowl : a loose gown with hanging sleeves and a hood, worn by Benedictine and other monks

crocket : a carved decorative feature carved in a leaf shape and projecting from the angles of a spire, pinnacle or gable

crossing : the space at the intersection of the nave, chancel and transepts of a church

crossing tower : a tower above the crossing, where the nave and chancel meet the transepts

crozier: pastoral staff; a processional staff with the head in the form of a shepherd's crook

crucifix : a representation of the cross on which Christ was crucified

cruciform : cross shaped

Crusade : series of military campaigns waged by Christian countries in the Holy Land from the 11th to the 13th century to recover the area from Islam; used more generally for any military campaign on behalf of the church

Crutched Friars : also known as the Brethren of the Holy Cross; not actually considered to be a mendicant group and were much involved with running hospitals

crypt : a chamber or vault beneath the main floor

Curvilinear : the second phase of the English Decorated style, of the mid to late 14th century

custody : subsection of a province within the Franciscan order

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daily office : the daily cycle of choir services performed by clergy; also referred to as divine office

dalmatic: item of mass vestments; a fringed tunic with split sides, worn under the chasuble by a bishop and as an upper garment by a deacon

Decorated : the second phase of Gothic in England, basically of the early 14th century, characterised by sinuous decorative forms and considerable surface decoration

deacon : the rank in the ministry below the priest, with a major role in the collection and distribution of alms

dean : the dean of a cathedral controlled its services and with the chapter, supervised its fabric and property; a rural dean assisted the bishop in administering a sub-division of an archdeaconry

deanery : a group of parishes forming a subdivision of an archdeaconry; also referred to as a rural deanery

decretal : papal letter written in response to a question, then having the authority of law

diocese : the territorial unit of administration in the church, governed by a bishop; also known as a see

divine office : the daily cycle of choir services performed by clergy

dogtooth : decorative carved design of a line of four pointed stars set diagonally

dome : a vault of even curvature erected on a circular base

Dominican : order of mendicant friars founded in the early 13th century by the Spanish St Dominic; also known as the Friars Preacher or the Black Friars

doorkeeper : the fourth rank of minor orders of the ministry; their functions were similar to those of a modern verger, heading processions and undertaking general care of the church fabric

dormitory : the communal sleeping area of a monastery; also known as the dorter

dorter : the communal sleeping area of a monastery; also known as the dormitory

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Compiled by Dianne Tillotson. Now part of her Medieval Writing web site.

Last updated 11/8/2004.