A Glossary of the Medieval Church

r return to beginning

Rayonnant : the development of French Gothic which produced multiple light windows with geometric tracery

reader : the third rank of minor orders of the ministry; they had a range of functions at different times and in different regions, which included conducting readings during services; also known as lector

rector : a parish priest, or corporate body such as a monastery or cathedral, that receives the benifice of a parish

Reformation : a loose term for a series of processes occurring between the 14th and 17th centuries whereby branches of the church in various European countries removed themselves from papal authority

regular : living according to a rule; can refer to living in a monastic community or a community of regular canons

regular canon : priest living in a community in accordance with a rule; term applied to the Augustinian canons

relic : the mortal remains, or any components thereof, of a saint; believed to embody the miraculous powers of the saint

reliquary : a container for the relics of a saint; many were expensively gilded and jewelled

Renaissance : with respect to architecture, a return to certain Classical forms, including the round arch

reredorter : the toilet block of a monastery

reredos : a wall or screen of wood or stone rising behind an altar

response : the second part of a sentence, often from a Psalm, sung after a versicle by the second part of the choir

resurrection : the resurrection of Christ from the dead on the third day after his death; commemorated on Easter Sunday

retrochoir : the area behind the high altar in a major church

Revelations : the last book of the Bible, predicting the events leading up to the end of the world

rib vault : a vault with bands of projecting stonework along the angles or groins

ridge rib : stone rib running longitudinally or tranversely at the top of a vault

Romanesque : style of architecture which preceded Gothic in Western Europe, characterised by round arches and simple ground plan

rood : a crucifix, usually wooden, suspended across the chancel arch above the rood screen; it could also be painted on the chancel arch

rood loft : a gallery built above the rood screen to carry the crucifix, or other images or candles

rood screen : a screen, either wooden or stone, separating the chancel of the church from the nave; it symbolically separated the congregation from the ritual domain of the priest

roof boss : an ornamental knob covering the intersection of ribs in a vault or on a ceiling

rosary : a series of prayers; to assist the memory, the prayers are counted off on a string of beads

rose window : a circular window with tracery arranged like the spokes of a wheel

Rota Romana : the papal court, founded in the 13th century

rubric : a heading written in red in a manuscript

Rule of St Augustine : a rule for religious community life first devised by a follower of St Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century; revived in the 11th century for use by the regular canons

Rule of St Benedict : a set of rules for monastic life devised by an Italian monk, Benedict of Nursia, in the 6th century; became the basis for Western monasticism

rural dean : a minister assisting a bishop to administer a subdivision of an archdeaconry; known on the Continent as an archpriest

rural deanery : a group of parishes forming a subdivision of an archdeaconry

s return to beginning

sacrament : a visible sign of a sacred thing; in the late medieval church there were deemed to be seven sacraments, representing life cycle rituals; baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, ordination, marriage, confession and extreme unction

sacristy : a room for the storage of sacred vessels, liturgical books and priestly vestments; and where the clergy don their ceremonial attire; also known as a vestry

saint : a person whose virtue and holiness was considered to be proven and who was already with God; a saint was considered capable of interceding with God on behalf of a person who prayed to them, and of performing miracles

Sanctoral : the annual cycle of services based around the celebration of the feasts of the saints

sanctuary : the part of the church containing the high altar

Santiago : crusading order founded in Spain in the 12th century; unlike the other Spanish military orders its members were lay persons

scriptorium : a room where manuscripts were transcribed

scripture : the Bible

secular : 1) in relation to clergy, priests living in the world, not under a rule, who are bound by no vows and may possess property, working under the authority of a bishop: 2) more generally, refers to people who are not clergy, the laity

sedilia : a range of carved stone seats in the chancel of a church for the clergy at mass

see : properly, the official 'seat' of a bishop. Commonly used for the territorial unit of administration in the church, governed by a bishop; also known as a diocese

sequence : a short hymn-like choral sequence performed in the mass on certain feast days

Sext : the third of the Little Hours of divine office, recited at the sixth hour (11 am)

shrine : a reliquary, a sacred image of special importance or a holy place, especially one connected with pilgrimage

spire : a tall pyramidal, polygonal or conical structure arising from a tower

Spirituals : members of the Franciscan order devoted to maintaining the ideals of the founder with respect to money and property

squint : an angled slit in a wall allowing a view of the high altar from outside the sanctuary

stiff leaf : a form of carved decoration for column capitals consisting of foliate motifs projecting from the capital

stigmata : the wounds of Christ at the crucifixion; St Francis of Assisi was the first to claim to have miraculously received the stigmata

stole: item of mass vestments; a long rectangular piece of fabric worn around the neck and crossed on the chest by a priest, over the left shoulder be a deacon

sub-deacon : a member of the order of the ministry below that of deacon; considered to be the lowest of the major orders

surplice: item of processional vestments: loose fitting white garment not quite reaching to the feet.

synod : a formal meeting of representatives of various units of the church

t return to beginning

table tomb : a tomb set above ground level in a box-like structure; also known as a tomb chest

Talmud : compilation of Jewish oral teachings, assembled in written form in the early centuries of the Christian era

Templars : order of military monks founded in 1119 to assist in the Crusades; also known as the Knights Templar or the Poor Knights of Christ

Temporal : the annual cycle of church feasts commemorating the life of Christ

Terce : the second of the Little Hours of divine office, recited at the third hour (8 am)

tertiary : an institution developed in the 13th century, whereby a lay person could live a life devoted to religion without being a full member of a community

Teutonic Order : military order founded in the Holy land after the Third Crusade

tiara : the special headdress of the pope, consisting of a pointed hat encircled by three crowns

tierceron : extra vaulting ribs which form a fan shape with the main structural ribs and terminate on a ridge rib

tithe : the tenth part of produce from the land and of other income, collected to support a parish priest and maintain his services

tomb chest : a tomb set above ground level in a box-like structure; also known as a table tomb

tomb slab : a plain or carved cover for a grave within a church, set at floor level

tracery : the ornamental intersecting stonework in the upper part of a window, screen or panel

transept : the transverse arm of a cross shaped church

transubstantiation : the conversion of the whole substance of the bread and wine of the Eucharist into the whole substance of the body and blood of Christ

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

triforium : an arcaded wall passage at a level above the arcade and below the clerestory

Trinity : the Father, Son and Holy Ghost

trope : a short series of words added as an embellishment to the text of the mass or divine office, to be sung by the choir

troper : a book containg tropes for the use of the choir at mass or divine office; after around the 12th century, a book containing sequences

True Cross : supposedly the actual cross on which Christ was crucified; there were fragments of it preserved as relics across Christendom

tunicle: item of mass vestments: fringed tunic with split sides; worn under the dalmatic by a bishop or as an upper garment by a sub-deacon

tunnel vault : continous vault of semicircular cross-section; also called barrel vault

Turin shroud : a cloth reputed to be the shroud in which Christ was wrapped after the crucifixion; modern scientific dating indicates that it is of medieval date

tympanum : the area between the lintel, or flat top, of a doorway and the arch above it

type : a story from the Old Testament which was held to prefigure a story from the New Testament

u return to beginning

unction : the sacrament of absolution of sins performed by a priest for a person who is sick or at the point of death, sometimes called "extreme unction"; can also be used more generally for any rite which entails anointing with oil for religious purposes

undercroft : a vaulted room, sometimes underground, below an upper room

v return to beginning

vault : an arched ceiling or roof of stone or brick, sometimes imitated in wood or plaster

vaulting : a roof constructed in the form of a arched bays

vaulting bay : the basic structural unit of a vaulted roof, consisting of a rectangle transected by the vaulting ribs

vaulting rib : a diagonal arched rib which supports the cell of a vault

vaulting springer : the supporting masonry for the base of a vaulting rib

versicle : a short sentence, often from the Psalms, sung antiphonally during worship; it is answered by a response from the other part of the choir

Vespers : the evening service of divine office, recited before dark

vestments : the ceremonial clothing of the clergy

vestry : a room for the storage of sacred vessels, liturgical books and priestly vestments; and where the clergy don their cermonial attire; also known as a sacristy

vicar : a priest employed as a substitute for a parish rector of for a member of a religious house, monastic, cathedral or collegiate, which had appropriated the revenue for the position

vicarage : the endowment for a vicar

vicars choral : clergy who performed the office in a cathedral of collegiate church in the absence of the prebendaries

Virgin Mary : the mother of Jesus, considered the most elevated of the saints and Queen of Heaven

visitation : the periodic inspection by a bishop of the temporal and spiritual affairs of a diocese which are under his control, or by an abbot or monastic official of houses within his jurisdiction

Vulgate : the Latin version of the Bible as retranslated by St Jerome; it became the stadard version for the Western Church

w return to beginning

Waldensians : sect organised in the 12th century in Lyons; the founder became a mendicant preacher and expounded against the worldliness of the established church; the sect survives today

warden : head of a custody, or subsection of a province, within the Francisan order

waterleaf : a carved design for column capitals of simple sinuous foliate designs

white canons : popular name for the Premonstratensians, an order derived from the Augustinians and founded in 1121

x return to beginning

y return to beginning

z return to beginning

return to beginning

| a - b| c - d | e - h | i - m | n - q | r - z |

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

Last updated 11/8/2004.