Looking at Buildings

Styles & Traditions

Fan Vaults

The FAN VAULTGlossary Term is a sophisticated form of barrel vaultGlossary Term built of cut stone, consisting of inverted conoids decoratedGlossary Term with a fan of purely decorative surface ribs, often with pendantGlossary Term bosses.

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Gloucester Cathedral, Cloister

Fan vaults appear at first over small spaces, the earliest known structural examples are those of the 14th century in the cloister of Gloucester Cathedral.

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Peterborough Cathedral, Retrochoir

On a large scale the fan vaultGlossary Term remained exceptional, associated with especially prestigious buildings in the PerpendicularGlossary Term style of the end of the 15th and early 16th centuries.


Barrel vault

The simplest kind of vault, in the form of a continuous semicircular or pointed arch; also called a tunnel vault.


An enclosed quadrangle in a monastery or by a church, surrounded by covered passages; by extension, any space so enclosed. Cloister garth: the area enclosed by a cloister.


A distinctive phase of English Gothic which developed at the end of the 13th century and continued into the later 14th; sometimes abbreviated to Dec. Named from its elaborate window tracery, which abandoned the simple circular forms of Geometric in favour of more varied patterns based on segments of circles. Dec tracery makes much use of ogee or reversed curves, which were combined in the 14th century to produce reticulated and flowing tracery composed of trefoils, quatrefoils and dagger shapes. Similar inventiveness is seen in the patterns produced by the lierne and tierceron vaults of the period, in the three-dimensional handling of wall surfaces broken up by canopy work and sculpture and in imaginative spatial planning making use of diagonal axes.


An ornamental feature suspended from a ceiling or vault.


English version of late Gothic, developed from the 1320s, which continued into the early 16th century; sometimes abbreviated to Perp. Characterised by large windows with a grid pattern of mullions and transoms, with the mullions continuing to the head to the arch, which is often of flattened or four-centred form. This motif of panel tracery is used also for wall decoration, and on the fan vaults that were used for the most prestigious buildings.


An arched stone roof, sometimes imitated in timber, plaster etc. For the different kinds see barrel vault, fan-vault, groin-vault, rib-vault, sail vault.