- 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
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
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
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
. Such radiating chapels are found in England in Norwich
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
- Joseph Nechvatal, "Immersive Excess in the Apse of Lascaux", Technonoetic Arts 3, no3. 2005