A Brief Overview

Stokstad writes (Art History. New York: Prentice Hall & Harry Abrams, Inc., 1995. p.35) that the term architecture has traditionally been applied to "the enclosure of spaces with at least some aesthetic intent, and some would object to its use in connection with some improvisations. But building even the simplest of shelters requires a degree of imagination and planning deserving of the name 'architecture.'"

Key Terms



AEDICULA:A type of decorative frame, usually found a niche or door, or window. An aedicula is made up of a pediment and enatblature supported by columns, pilasters, or piers.

APEX:A peak or top point.

ARCH: A curved structural element that spans an open space. Built from wedge-shaped stone blocks called voussoirs, which, when placed together and held at the top by an oblong keystone, form an effective weight-bearing unit. Requires support at either side to contain outward thrust of structure. Found in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending upon style of period.



BUTTRESS:Sometimes called a buttress pier, this is the large stone pier that rises across the aisle from the pier and is connected to the pier by a flying buttress.



CAPITAL:The form, usually of stone, that supplies the visual transition between the top of the column and whatever the column supports.

CENTERING:The timber framework that supports the stones of an arch until the mortar is dry between them.

CHOIR: The section of the church east of the transept that is sometimes raised above the level of the nave. It is called the choir because, traditionally, this is where the choir stands.

CLERESTORY:The topmost part of the church building whose windows illuminate the central portion of the interior space.

CROWN:The highest part of the arch, where the keystone is located.



ELEVATION:The arrangement, proportions, and details of any vertical side or face of a building.

ENGAGED COLUMN: A column that is attached to a background wall.



FLYING BUTTRESS:A stone that carries the thrust of the vault to the buttress.



GABLE: The triangular wall space found on the end wall of a building between the two sides of a pitched roof.



HURDLES: A movable platform made of woven twigs.



KEYSTONE: The central locking stone at the top of an arch.



LAGGING:Temporary wooden planks or frames used to support the courses or layers of webbing of stone until the mortar is dry.



MORTICE & TENON:A method of fastening ine piece of wood to another. A mortice or square hole is cut into one piece of wood while a tenon is cut on the other end of the piece. The tenon is then tapped into the mortice, locking the two together without nails.

MULLION: The narrow upright stone pier used to divide the panels of glass in a window.



PIER: The pillar or column that supports an arch.



RIB: The stone arch that supports and strengthens the vault.



TEMPLATE: The full-size wooden pattern used by the stone cutter when he has to cut many pieces of stone to the same size.

TRUSS: A triangular wooden frame. The roof frame is constructed of a series of trusses fastened together.



VAULT: The form of construction, usually of brick or stone, that is based on the shape of the arch. Used for the most part as a ceiling or roof.

VOUSSOIRS: Blocks of stone cut in wedge shapes to form an arch.



WINDLASSA machine for hoisting or hauling. In the Middle Ages this consisted of a horizontal wooden barrel with a long rope fastened to it. The barrel was supported at both ends. When it was turned, the rope would gradually be wound up around it.


How Cathedrals Were Built

Foundations were built twenty-five feet below ground level in order to support the building and prevent it from settling unevenly.

[Foundation 1]

When work was completed in one area, laborers continued to dig on both sides of the original foundation.

[Foundation 2]

Foundations were then put down in the newly cleared areas.

[Foundation 3]

And the walls were erected.

[Foundation 4]

Go back where you came from

This page was last updated: 19 September 1997

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