In architecture, the apse (from Latin apsis: "arch, vault" from Greek ἀψίς apsis "arch"; sometimes written apsis; plural apsides) is a semicircular recess covered with a hemispherical vault or semi-dome, also known as an Exedra. In Romanesque, Byzantine and Gothic Christian abbey, cathedral and church architecture, the term is applied to a semi-circular or polygonal termination of the main building at the liturgical east end (where the altar is), regardless of the shape of the roof, which may be flat, sloping, domed, or hemispherical.
The apse is the semicircular or polygonal termination to the choir or aisles of a church. In relation to church architecture it is generally the name given to where the altar is placed or where the clergy are seated.
The domed apse became a standard part of the church plan in the early Christian era.
The chancel (or sanctuary), directly to the east beyond the choir contains the High Altar, where there is one (compare communion table). This area is reserved for the clergy, and was therefore formerly called the "presbytery," from the Greek presbuteros meaning "elder".
Hemi-cyclic choirs, first developed in the East, came to use in France in 470. By the onset of the 13th century, they had been augmented with radiating chapels outside the choir aisle, the entire structure of Apse, Choir and radiating chapels coming to be known as the chevet (French, "headpiece"). Famous northern French examples of chevets are in the Gothic cathedrals of Amiens, Beauvais and Reims. Such radiating chapels are found in England in Norwich and Canterbury cathedrals, but the fully developed feature is essentially French, though the Francophile connoisseur Henry III introduced it into Westminster Abbey.
The word "ambulatory" refers to a curving aisle in the apse that passes behind the altar and choir, giving access to chapels in the chevet. An "ambulatory" ("walking space") may refer to the arcade passages that enclose a cloister in a monastery, or to other types of aisles round the edge of a church building, for example in circular churches.
- Architectural development of the eastern end of cathedrals in England and France
- Byzantine architecture
- Cathedral architecture
- Church architecture
- T. Poole (1907). "Apse". Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 3 June 2011.
- Jane Vadnal (January 1998). "transept". Glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture. University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
- "Apse". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
- Moss, Henry; The Birth of the Middle Ages 395-814; Clarendon, 1935
- "Chevet", Encyclopedia Britannica
- Joseph Nechvatal, "Immersive Excess in the Apse of Lascaux", Technonoetic Arts 3, no. 3, 2005.
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