A Glossary of the Medieval Church

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impost : a projecting moulding supporting an arch

Inquisition : the official persecution of heresy by special ecclesiastical courts; formally constituted by the papacy in the 13th century

interdict : an ecclesiastical punishment excluding the faithful from participation in spiritual things; it could be applied to individuals, to local areas such as parishes, or to whole populations

International Gothic : an art style of the 14th century which spread across western Europe; stylistic similarities appeared in different forms of art including painting, sculpture, stained glass and manuscript illumination

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label stop : an ornamental boss at the base of a hood mould or arch

Lady Chapel : a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary

laity : persons who are not members of the clergy

lancet : a simple narrow window with a pointed arch

lantern : a circular or polygonal turret surrounded by windows or openwork

Last Judgment : the final judgment of mankind by God after the resurrection of the dead

Lauds : the early morning service of divine office

lavatorium : a series of basins outside a monastic refectory for the washing of hands

lay : with reference to the laity, or persons who are not members of the clergy

lay brother : member of a religious order who is not bound to the recitation of the divine office and is occupied in manual work, generally adult converts to the monastic life; also known as conversi

lay sister : female member of a religious order who is not bound to the recitation of the divine office and is occupied in manual work, generally adult converts to the monastic life

lectionary : a book containing a series of biblical extracts to be read at the mass

lector : the third rank of minor orders of the ministry; also known as reader

Lent: the forty days preceding Easter; a period of fasting

lierne : purely decorative extra vaulting ribs joining the structural ribs to form a net-like pattern

light : with respect to a window, the individual openings

lintel : the flat top of a doorway

litany : a form of prayer consisting of a series of petitions sung by a deacon, a priest or cantors, to which the people made fixed responses

Little Hours : Prime, Terce, Sext and None; the less elaborate of the services of divine office

liturgy : all the prescribed rituals of the church, including the mass and divine office

Lollards : followers of John Wycliffe; they believed that the Bible was the sole authority in religion and that every man had the right to read and interpret it for himself

long and short work : long stones on end between flat ones, all bonded into the walls, at corners

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maison dieu : almshouse, or residence for the poor

major orders : the higher ranks of the Christian ministry, comprising the orders of bishop, priest, deacon and sub-deacon

maniple: item of mass vestments; rectangle of fabric worn fastened to the left wrist

manual : a book containing special services for occasional use, such as baptisms, marriages and visiting the sick

manuscript : a written work transcribed by hand

marriage : the ceremony of union of man and wife was a sacrament of the church

martyr : member of the Christian church who suffered death for their faith; martyrs ranked before all other saints

mass : the principal ritual of the church, the service at which the sacrament of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is performed

mass vestments: ceremonial clothing worn by a priest for the celebration of the mass

master-general : the head of the Dominican order

Matins : the night office; the service recited at 2 am in the divine office

mendicant orders : term for the friars; the term refers to begging because of their dependence on alms for their support

metropolitan : a bishop with authority over a group of territorially contiguous dioceses and their bishops; also known as an archbishop

miniature : a full page or half page painting in a manuscript

minister general : term for the head of the Franciscan order

ministers provincial : term for the heads of provinces within the Franciscan order

minor orders : the lower ranks of the Christian ministry, comprising the orders of acolyte, exorcist, reader and doorkeeper

minster : a church served by a body of canons or prebendaries; the same as a collegiate church; in the north of England the term was also used for a cathedral

misericord : 1) a swing up seat in the choir of a major church, allowing clergy celebrating divine office to rest their weight while standing up; 2) a room in a monastery where the inhabitants were allowed occasionally to eat meat (Latin misericordia = pity, compassion)

missal : book containing the forms of service for the mass

mitre : the pointed headdress worn by archbishops, bishops and some abbots on ceremonial occasions

monastery : a community of monks

monastic : refers to the life or community of monks

monk : a male member of a religious community living under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; strictly it is confined to members of those bodies which live a communal life

monotheistic : a religion with only one god

morse: decorative fastener for a cope

mortal sin : a sin committed with a clear knowledge of its guilt, with full consent of the will, and concerning a grave matter; where circumstances allow, every mortal sin must be confessed to a priest otherwise the soul suffers eternal damnation

moulding : contoured projection around an arch, window or door

mullion : vertical bar dividing a window into lights

mystery plays: religious drama performed at major festivals, commonly performed out of doors

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

Last updated 11/8/2004.