From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other uses, see Nave (disambiguation).
For the Hebrew name, see Naveh.
Not to be confused with Knave (disambiguation).
Schematical illustration of a plan view of a cathedral, with the coloured area showing the nave.
The nave of the Saint-Sulpice church in Paris, France.
Romanesque nave of the abbey church of Saint-Georges-de-Boscherville, Normandy, France has a triforium passage above the aisle vaulting.

In Romanesque and Gothic Christian abbey, cathedral basilica and church architecture, the nave is the main body of the church extending from the entrance (the narthex) to the transepts. It provides the central approach to the high altar. The term nave, from medieval Latin navis (ship), was probably suggested by the keel shape of its vaulting.[1] The nave of a church, whether Romanesque, Gothic or Classical, extends from the entry—which may have a separate vestibule (the narthex)—to the chancel and may be flanked by lower side-aisles[2] separated from the nave by an arcade. If the aisles are high and of a width comparable to the central nave, the structure is sometimes said to have three naves.


A fresco showing Old St Peter's Basilica, built in the 4th century: the central area, illuminated by high windows, is flanked by aisles.

The earliest churches were built when builders were familiar with the form of the Roman basilica, a public building for business transactions. It had a wide central area, with aisles separated by columns, and with windows near the ceiling. Old St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, built in the 4th century on the orders of Roman emperor Constantine I and replaced in the 16th century, is an early church which had this form.[3][4]

The nave, the main body of the building, is the section set apart for the laity, while the chancel is reserved for the clergy. The chancel, or choir, developed out of the apse, a semicircular recess containing the sanctuary in early churches. The size of the chancel increased over time. In medieval churches the nave was separated from the chancel by the rood screen; these, being elaborately decorated, were notable features in European churches from the 14th to the mid-16th century.[3][4][5]

Medieval naves were divided into compartments, the repetition of form giving an effect of great length, and often exhibited a marked verticality. During the Renaissance, in place of dramatic effects there were more balanced proportions.[3]

The term nave may have arisen (apart from the shape of the church resembling a ship, as mentioned above) because the ship represented the church: a ship was an early Christian symbol.[4][6]


Late Gothic fan vaulting (1608, restored 1860s) over the nave at Bath Abbey, Bath, England. Suppression of the triforium offers a greater expanse of clerestory windows.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica, s.v. "nave".
  2. ^ Nave (definition from, accessed 2010-01.20.)
  3. ^ a b c Nave Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed 25 March 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Nave New Advent encyclopedia, accessed 25 March 2014.
  5. ^ Rood screen Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed 25 March 2014.
  6. ^ Ship as a Symbol of the Church (Bark of St. Peter) Jesus Walk, accessed 25 March 2014.

External links[edit]