Looking at Buildings

Building Types


The Great Churches

Interactive - The Great Church

Medieval churches demonstrate the power and wealth of the church as an international organisation that throughout the Middle Ages rivalled the significance of secular rulers. The example of the great churches on the Continent, many of them built as centres for pilgrimage or for the new or reformed monastic ordersGlossary Term, provided the impetus for the great wave of church rebuilding in England after the NormanGlossary Term Conquest. The principal components of the great church were developed and refined from the 11th to the 13th century to provide for a complex mixture of activities: services of worship, processions and ceremonies for special occasions, and more informal visits to shrines and chapels.

The east end with the choirGlossary Term for the clergy, focused on the High Altar, provided a place for regular worship; from the 13th century onwards the area to its east, approached by the choirGlossary Term aisles, was developed to provide ample space for shrines and chapels in and around the retrochoirGlossary Term. Transepts stabilised the large open space below the crossing tower and offered space for additional chapels. The long aisled naveGlossary Term was (with the exception of certain monasteries) available for lay people, and had its own altar to the west of the screenGlossary Term or pulpitumGlossary Term dividing off the choirGlossary Term stalls. The west front was often elaborated by towers and sculpture to provide a public showpiece, while the precinct of the church contained the many buildings used by the clergy.



The part of a cathedral, monastic church or collegiate church where services are sung.


The body of a church west of the crossing or chancel, often flanked by aisles.


The English version of the Romanesque style, which predominated in Western Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries; so called because it was propagated after the Norman Conquest in 1066. It is associated especially with the expansion of monasticism and the building of large stone churches, and is characterized by massive masonry, round-headed arches and vaulting inspired by ancient Roman precedent, and by the use of stylized ornament.


The differently formalized versions of the basic post-and-lintel (column and entablature) system in classical architecture. The main orders are Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. They are Greek in origin but occur in Roman versions. Tuscan is a simple variant of Roman Doric. The Composite capital combines Ionic volutes with Corinthian foliage. Though each order has its own conventions of design and proportion, there are many minor variations. Superimposed orders: orders on successive levels, customarily in the upward sequence of Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Composite.


Stone screen in a major church dividing choir from nave.


In a major church, the area behind the high altar and east chapel.


In a medieval church, usually set at the entry to the chancel. A parclose screen separates a chapel from the rest of the church. A rood screen was placed below a representation of the Crucifixion (called a rood).