A Glossary of the Medieval Church

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Early English : the first phase of Gothic in England, essentially of the 13th century, characterised by simple lancet windows and relatively unadorned surfaces

Easter : the feast of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ; the major feast of the calendar; a movable feast falling on the Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox

Easter Sepulchre : a table tomb in a wall niche, used to display an effigy of Christ during Easter

ecclesiastical : pertaining to the church

effigy tomb : a tomb bearing a representation of the deceased, usually life sized, in three dimensions and of stone

Epiphany : feast of the 6th January, associated with the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus

episcopal : in relation to the authority of a bishop

eremetical : relating to the life of a hermit

Eucharist : one of the seven sacraments and the principal ritual of the church, in which bread and wine is transformed into the body and blood of Christ; the ritual must be administered by a priest

excommunication : a censure imposed by church authority which excludes those subjected to it from holy communion and imposes on them other deprivations and disabilities; in the heavier form of this censure, the transgressor was forbidden any intercourse with fellow Christians and deprived of all rights and privileges in the church

exorcist : the second of the minor orders of the ministry; the power of exorcising evil spirits was never confined to this order although they assisted in this process, as well as with the pouring out of water at the mass

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fan vault : vault consisting of half cones nearly meeting at the apex of the vault, with decorative panelling between the ribs

finial : carved ornament, usually in the form of a fleur-de-lis, at the top of a gable, arch or pinnacle

Flamboyant : the late Gothic style in France, characterised by long wavy tracery designs

fleche : a narrow openwork tower with a tall spire, sometimes constructed of wood or metal

floriated cross : a motif combining a crucifix with foliate or floral ornament

flushwork : a decorative technique for exterior walls, in which designs are picked out in white stone against a background of flint cobbles

flying buttress : an arch or half arch transmitting the thrust of a vault or roof from the upper part of a wall to an outer support

font : receptacle for baptismal water, usually made of stone but sometimes of metal

four centred arch : form of arch used in the Perpendicular phase of Gothic, flattened at the top

Franciscan : order of friars founded by St Francis of Assisi in the early 13th century in Italy; also known as the Friars Minor or the Grey Friars

frater : the communal refectory of a monastic establishment

friars : members of one of the mendicant orders, the four main orders being the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Austin friars; they lived in regular fashion but were extensively involved with the outside community; the term literally means "brother"

Friars of the Sack : also called the Friars of the Penance of Jesus Christ; the largest of the lesser groups of friars in England, all of their houses were abandoned by 1314 and the members obliged to join one of the major mendicant orders

friary : a community of friars

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Galilee : a vestibule or occasionally a chapel, originally for penitents and usually at the west end of a church

gallery : an upper storey over an aisle, opening on to the nave; also called a tribune

garde-robe : a toilet

gargoyle : a water spout carved in the form of a grotesque human or animal

gatehouse : a building constructed over a gateway

Geometric : the first phase of the English Decorated style, of the early 14th century

Gilbertine : a monastic order founded in England in the 12th century; a double order comprising male and female members under the spiritual guidance of the Augustinian canons

gloss : marginal or interlinear annotations to a text

gospel : the books of the New Testament of the Bible detailing the life of Christ and the immediate aftermath of his death and resurrection; comprises the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

Gothic : the architectural style of the later middle ages, based on the pointed arch and construction by a skeletal framework rather than mass

grace : the gift of God inhering in the soul, by which men are enabled to perform righteous acts

gradual : book containing the music for the mass; a sub-set of the missal

grand master : title of the heads of the military orders of Templars and Hospitallers

grisaille : with respect to stained glass, a style popular in the 13th century employing abstract rather than pictorial designs and much transparent white glass

groin : angle at the intersection of two surfaces in a vault

groin vault : vault formed by the meeting at right angles of two tunnel vaults

guardian : term for the head of a Franciscan friary

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habit : the distinctive clothing worn by members of monastic orders

hall church : a church in which nave and aisles are of approximately equal height

hammerbeam : a horizontal bracket supported by braces, designed to carry arched braces and struts which support a roof

heresy : the formal denial or doubt of any defined doctrine of the church

heretic : person who has expressed formal denial or doubt of any defined doctrine of the church

holy communion : the sacrament of the Eucharist

Holy Orders : the higher grades of the Christian ministry; those of bishop, priest and deacon

Holy See : the diocese of the Bishop of Rome; commonly used to denote the authority and jurisdiction of the papacy

Holy Trinity : the three persons of God; the Father, Son and Holy Ghost

holy water stoup : a small stone basin containing holy water

hood mould : a projecting moulding on an arch, above a door or over a window

Hospitallers : military order first recognised in 1113, founded to assist in the Crusades; their full name was Knights of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem

hospitium : a monastic guesthouse

host : the communion wafers which form the bread which is miraculously transformed during the ritual of the Eucharist

hours : the times specified for the recitation of divine office; Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers and Compline

Hussites : sect founded in early 15th century Bohemia; the founder was much influenced by the ideas of John Wycliffe

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

Last updated 11/8/2004.