AskDefine | Define apse

Dictionary Definition

apse n : a domed or vaulted recess or projection on a building especially the east end of a church; usually contains the altar [syn: apsis]

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Extensive Definition

This article is about an architectural feature; for the astronomical term see apsis. For the rock band, see Apse (band). Or you may mean the acronym APS.
In architecture, the apse (Latin absis "arch, vault"; sometimes written apsis; plural apses) is a semicircular recess covered with a hemispherical vault. In Romanesque, Byzantine and Gothic Christian abbey, cathedral and church architecture, the term is applied to the semi-circular or polygonal section of the sanctuary at the liturgical east end beyond the altar. Geometrically speaking, an apse is either a half-cone or half-dome.


The epithet "apsidal" may be applied to the exedra of classical architecture, a feature of the secular Roman basilica, which provided some prototypes for Early Christian churches. The apse in the Roman basilica was often raised (as the sanctuary generally still is) as a hieratic feature that set apart the magistrates who deliberated within it. The apse as a semicircular projection (which may be polygonal on the exterior, or reveal the radiating projections of chapels) may be roofed with a half-dome or with radiating vaulting. A simple apse may be merely embedded within the wall of the east end. Eastern orthodox churches may have a triple apse, which is usually a mark of Byzantine influence when it is seen in Western churches. Smaller subsidiary apses may be found around the choir or even at the ends of transepts. An exedra or apse may be reduced in scale to form a niche within the thickness of walling; a niche does not reveal its presence by projecting on the exterior. Where an apse contains an altar or throne it can be architecturally referred to as a tribune.
The interior of the apse is traditionally a focus of iconography, bearing the richest concentration of mosaics, or painting and sculpture, towards which all other decoration may tend.

Parts of the apse

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the south apse is known as diaconicon and the north apse — as prothesis. Various ecclesiastical features of which the apse may form part are drawn together here:


In the presbytery or sanctuary directly to the east beyond the choir is the High Altar, where there is one (compare communion table). This area is reserved for the clergy. The word derives from the Greek presbuteros meaning "elder".

Choir or Quire

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word `choir` in an architectural context means the part of a church 'between the altar and the nave', used by the church choir.


The word "chancel" derives from the French usage of chancel from a Late Latin word cancelli meaning "lattice" (Online Etymology Dictionary). The grating in question separated the chancel from the nave, thus "chancel" refers to the part of a church near the main altar used by the priests and open to the choir.


In the beginning of the 13th century in France, the apses were built as radiating chapels outside the choir aisle, henceforth known as the chevet (French, "headpiece"), when the resulting structure was too complicated to be merely an "apse". 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 choir, giving access to chapels in the chevet. An "ambulatory" ("walking space") may refer to the arcaded passages that enclose a cloister in a monastery.
apse in Tosk Albanian: Apsis
apse in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Апсіда
apse in Bulgarian: Апсида (архитектура)
apse in Catalan: Absis
apse in Czech: Apsida (architektura)
apse in Danish: Apsis
apse in German: Apsis
apse in Estonian: Apsiid
apse in Spanish: Ábside
apse in Esperanto: Absido
apse in Basque: Abside
apse in French: Abside
apse in Galician: Ábsida
apse in Croatian: Apsida
apse in Italian: Abside
apse in Hebrew: אפסיס
apse in Georgian: აფსიდა
apse in Latvian: Apsīda (arhitektūrā)
apse in Lithuanian: Apsidė (architektūra)
apse in Hungarian: Apszis
apse in Dutch: Apsis (architectuur)
apse in Japanese: アプス
apse in Norwegian: Apside
apse in Polish: Apsyda (architektura)
apse in Portuguese: Abside
apse in Russian: Апсида (архитектура)
apse in Slovak: Apsida (architektúra)
apse in Serbian: Апсида
apse in Finnish: Apsis
apse in Swedish: Absid
apse in Ukrainian: Абсида

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