Cathedral diagram

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In Western ecclesiastical architecture, a cathedral diagram is a floor plan showing the sections of walls and piers, giving an idea of the profiles of their columns and ribbing. Light double lines in perimeter walls indicate glazed windows. Dashed lines show the ribs of the vaulting overhead. By convention, ecclesiastical floorplans are shown map-fashion, with north to the top and the liturgical east end to the right.

Many abbey churches have floorplans that are comparable to cathedrals, though sometimes with more emphasis on the sanctuary and choir spaces that are reserved for the religious community. Smaller churches are similarly planned, with simplifications.


West end

The main doors are often at the west end, and there are often towers on that end flanking an opening, sometimes a triple opening, into the nave, often below a stained glass "rose window". The presence or planned presence of towers reveals itself by more massive stonework at floorplan level: see Amiens (Fig. 1). The narthex forms a kind of lobby or interior porch on some plans, though not at Amiens, where the central door opens into the nave and the side doors open directly into the aisles.


The nave (from the Latin for "ship", navis) is the long central section directly inside the main (liturgical west end) doors, where the public attends services. The nave is ordinarily flanked by aisles. If the aisles are comparable in height and width, the plan may be described as having three naves. More often the aisles are lower, and a clerestory above their roofs lets light into the nave. Recesses in the walling of the aisles may provide spaces for shallow side chapels, as at Metz (Fig. 3).

The plans show structural stonework; they omit the usual rood screen ("rood" meaning "cross") dividing the nave from the choir (earlier, "quire"), which may be almost as long as the nave, as at Salisbury (Fig. 2). The back-choir or retro-choir is a space behind the high altar in the quire of a church, in which there is a small altar standing back to back with the other.[1]

In the nave, monks would attend their own services ("offices") in an abbey church; in a cathedral the canons would perform similar service. Against the screen, on its west side toward the nave where the public could see it, is usually an altar.


In cruciform (cross-shaped) churches, the arms of the cross (together, the "transept") which form an aisle across the building are quite pronounced; however, the transept arms might be so short as not to stick out past the sides of the building (as at Notre-Dame de Paris), or there may be two of them, as at Canterbury Cathedral and Salisbury (right). The transept itself may have an aisle as at St-Denis or Salisbury, or two aisles, or it may have none.

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