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Part of St. Peter's Square in Rome, the parvis of St. Peter's Basilica
Colonnade of St. Peter's Square

Parvis or parvise is the open space in front of and around a cathedral or church,[1] especially when surrounded by either colonnades or porticoes, as at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.[2]


The term is derived via Old French from the Latin paradisus meaning "paradise".[3] This in turn came via Ancient Greek from the Indo-European Aryan languages of ancient Iran, where it meant a walled enclosure or garden precinct with heavenly flowers planted by the Clercs (Clerics).

Parvis of St Paul's Cathedral[edit]

In London in the Middle Ages the Serjeants-at-law practised at the parvis of St Paul's Cathedral, and there clients could seek their counsel. In the 14th century Geoffrey Chaucer referred to "A sergeant of the laws ware and wise/ That often hadde yben at the paruis...".[4] Later, ecclesiastical courts developed at Doctors' Commons on the same site.

Late English use[edit]

Three-storey Perpendicular Gothic porch of Church of St. John the Baptist, Cirencester: an elaborate example of what in later English usage has been called a parvise

In England the term was much later used to mean a room over the porch of a church. The architectural historians John Fleming, Hugh Honour and Nikolaus Pevsner,[1] and the theologians Frank Cross and EA Livingstone all say this usage is wrong. The Oxford English Dictionary records this use as being "historical", and current in the middle of the 19th century.[3] It may stem from an earlier misuse in F Blomefield's book Norfolk, published in 1744.[2]

In some churches these rooms were used for school rooms, and in Castle Ashby the parvise was the home of a woman - who saved the manor house from burning when she saw the fire taking hold from the room.

Examples of English parvises[edit]

See also[edit]


Sources and further reading[edit]