Words can have multiple meanings; the definitions in this Glossary correspond to the meanings in Art and Architecture of the Middle Ages: Exploring a Connected World (Cornell University Press, 2022).



abbey: Roman-rite monastery ruled by an abbot or abbess

acanthus: Mediterranean plant whose leaves were imitated in ancient and medieval sculpture

aedicula: small niche or shrine

aër: veil that covered the bread and wine as it was brought to the altar during the Orthodox Eucharist

Agnus Dei: Latin for "Lamb of God," a Christian iconographic motif based on John 1:29

al-Andalus: Arabic name for the Iberian Peninsula, parts of which were under Muslim control from 711 to 1492

alfiz: rectangular panel that frames an arch, usually the upper, rounded part

alloy: two or more metals that fuse together when heated

altar: elevated block or table on which religious ceremonies are performed; in the Jewish Temple, used for animal sacrifices and other offerings to God; in Christian churches, used for consecration of the eucharistic elements

altarpiece: object atop or behind a Christian altar, usually painted or carved with images of the altar's dedicatee

Amazigh, pl. Imazighen: Berbers, the Indigenous peoples of North Africa and the Sahara

ambulatory: aisle to facilitate circulation, especially one that curves around the east end of a church

ampulla: small portable flask to hold sanctified liquid, often decorated

amulet: protective device, often worn on the body

anagogical: rising upward, toward heaven

Anastasis: Greek for resurrection; the rotunda over the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem, and the Byzantine scene of Christ descending to Hades to retrieve such pre-Christian figures as Adam, Eve, John the Baptist

aniconism: tendency to avoid or opposition to representational imagery

annular: ring-shaped, like a semicircular crypt

antemihrab dome: dome in front of the mihrab in a mosque

apocryphal: religious texts not considered canonical by some, but often widely read

apostates: people who abandon a faith

apotropaic: referring to a protective device that turns away envy or evil; apotropaia is the collective plural for such devices

apse: vaulted semicircular space, often in the end wall of a longitudinal church

arabesques: continuously repeating, abstract vegetal or geometric designs

arca: Latin for box for valuables, such as the Ark of the Covenant

arcade: row of arches carried on columns, piers, or pilasters

archbishop: bishop who heads a Christian ecclesiastical province that contains multiple bishops

architrave: horizontal beam

archivolt: projecting band or molding that surrounds an arched opening; often carved

arcosolium: arched niche in a wall, often for burial

ascetic: strict, self-denying religious practice; or a person who practices asceticism

ashlar: precisely cut stone masonry 

atrium: unroofed courtyard in front of a house or public building

axonometric: architectural drawing in which a building is rotated to show multiple sides


baldachin: canopy, freestanding or attached to a wall, often above an altar or tomb

banna'i: Persian for builder's technique; architectural decoration in which plain bricks alternate with glazed ones to represent sacred names or pious phrases

bar tracery: thin stone bars that divide sections of a stained-glass window

barrel vault: continuous semicircular, tunnel-like vault

basilica: longitudinal building, often with a wider, taller central nave and narrower, lower flanking aisles; adopted for Christian religious use from Roman civic architecture

basmala: Arabic acronym, from "In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate," which is the most common expression of Muslim piety and appears at the beginning of all but one chapter of the Qur'an

bay: unit of a building defined by vertical supports, such as two piers or columns, including the vaults above that space

bema: sanctuary area of a synagogue or church

Berbers: Imazighen, the indigenous peoples of North Africa and the Sahara

bestiary: moralizing treatise about animals

bezel: top of a ring, attached to the hoop, with images, stones, or other decoration

Bible, biblical: collection of sacred texts, generally referring to those of Jews (Hebrew Bible) and Christians (Old and New Testaments); and the contents, characters, or time of the Bible

bifolium: one sheet of parchment or paper folded to make two leaves in a manuscript

bilateral: two-sided

bishop: Christian clergyman, ranking higher than a priest, who heads a bishopric or diocese

blind arch: filled-in arch

blood libel: false charge that Jews murdered a Christian for ritual purposes

bracteate: thin precious-metal plaque stamped on one side with a die

brass: alloy of copper with zinc, tin, or other metal, which makes the product stronger than copper

bronze: alloy of copper with tin and sometimes a small amount of another metal, making the product stronger than copper or brass

bronze casting: method of producing bronze objects or sculptures in a mold

buttress: projecting mass of masonry perpendicular to the exterior of a building that supports it at points of stress

caliph: Arabic for a successor of Muhammad, leader of the Muslim community

caliphate: political-religious state ruled by a caliph

calligraphy: from Greek for beautiful writing, as in a manuscript

Calvary: place outside Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified, known as Golgotha in Aramaic, enshrined within the Holy Sepulcher complex; also, the group of Jesus on the cross flanked by Mary and the apostle/evangelist John

cameo: small relief sculpture made by carving into a gem or stone that has layers of different colors

campanile: Italian for bell tower

canon, canonical: a collection of authoritative works or texts; also, part of the Christian eucharistic liturgy

canon tables: concordance of the four Gospels showing shared passages, systematized by Eusebius in the fourth century; often decorated

canonize: declare a deceased person a saint, or elevate a work or text to canonical status

capital: architectural element that crowns a pier or column and separates it from what it supports; often carved

caravanserai: Persian for roadside lodging for travelers and merchants

carbon-14: a radioactive isotope of carbon; when organic material (wood, fiber, bone, etc.) dies, it stops absorbing carbon and the isotope decays at a known rate, making it datable

carpet page: page in a manuscript that resembles a carpet because it is covered with symmetrical and usually nonfigural ornament

cartoons: full-size preparatory drawings, used to transfer a design to a surface

casket: box or chest, often portable

catacomb: underground cemetery with multiple narrow passages that open into rooms

cathedral: church that contains a cathedra; the main church of a bishopric or diocese

Catholic: Greek for universal, as in the early undivided Christian Church; more narrowly, the Roman-rite Church (versus Orthodox) and its liturgical system and doctrines

cenobitic: type of monasticism in which monks live together in communities

cenotaph: tomb or a funerary monument that does not contain a body

censer: vessel for burning incense, usually made of metal

centaur: composite creature from Greek myth, half man and half horse

chahar taq: Persian for four arches; the traditional form of a Zoroastrian fire temple, with four arches or short barrel vaults between four corner piers that support a dome; adopted in Islamicate architecture

Chalcedonian: Christians who accept the decisions about the nature of Christ promulgated by the Fourth Ecumenical Council, held at Chalcedon (now Kadiköy, Turkey) in 451

chalice: cup or goblet used in the Christian mass

chamberlain: chief officer in a household or palace

champlevé: technique for making enamels, in which a metal ground is cut out and the resulting space filled with glass that is then fired

chancel screen: low barrier, often of stone, that separates a church sanctuary (chancel) from the naos or nave; also called the templon

chapter house: room or building where a group of monastics or clergy meets for readings or business

chasing: ornamentation made by a hammer and tools on the front of a metal object

chasuble: wide sleeveless mantle worn to perform a mass in the Latin-rite church

chevet: east end of a Roman-rite basilica, including the choir, apse, ambulatory, and radiating chapels

chip-carving: hand carving by removing small chips, and the decoration that results

chi-rho: superimposed X-P monogram, the first two letters of Christos, Greek for Christ (Messiah)

choir: space in a Roman-rite church between the sanctuary and the nave, generally used by monks and clergy who sing during services

choros: circular chandelier in an Orthodox church

Christogram: see chi-rho

ciborium: roofed structure over an altar

circumambulate: walk around something, such as a shrine or worship space, usually in a ritualized way

citadel: fortress with residential and military functions

clerestory: window zone of a wall

clerical: relating to the clergy

clipeus, pl. clipeae: in antiquity, a round shield; a circular frame that encloses figural or other decoration

cloisonné: metalwork technique in which thin gold strips are attached at right angles to a base; the resulting cells are then filled with glass or gems

cloister: unroofed multipurpose space in a monastery or cathedral, enclosed by roofed walkways, usually connecting the south side of the church with other buildings

codex: book composed of folded sheets, often sewn or bound together on one edge

colonnade: a series of columns that supports a straight entablature

colophon: text, often at the end of a manuscript, that contains information about its production

commune: medieval Italian city-state

compound pier: vertical support composed of multiple shafts around a central core

confraternity: group of laypeople with a common religious or charitable goal

convent: complex built for religious seclusion of celibate monastics, usually nuns

cope: long semicircular cloak worn by Latin-rite clergy for other liturgical activities, not for mass

Coptic: belonging to the Miaphysite (non-Chalcedonian) Christian Church in Egypt as it developed under Muslim rule, especially after the ninth century; or the language used by Christians in Egypt, the last phase of Egyptian

corbel: masonry block or bracket that projects from a wall, sometimes carved

corbel frieze, corbel table: continuous decorative arcade supported by corbels, often near a roofline

cosmological: pertaining to the cosmos, or the ordered universe

cramps: staple-like fasteners that connect masonry blocks

crenellated, crenellation: projecting rectangular pattern at the top of a wall, usually used for defense

crockets, crocketed: small hook- or leaf-shaped carvings along the upper edges of late medieval European buildings, imitated in smaller-scale works

crossing: space where the nave, transept, and choir of a church intersect

cross-in-square: typical middle Byzantine centralized church plan with nine bays, in which four columns or piers define a cross shape and support a central dome braced by tall vaulted cross arms; the lower corner spaces are also vaulted

cross-nimbus: circular halo of light with a cross that identifies Christ

crypt: vaulted space in a church, often for tombs or relics, usually under the main story

cubit: ancient unit of measurement based on the length of an adult man's arm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger

cult: system of religious beliefs and rituals associated with worship

cusp, cusped: intersection of two arcs or foils


dado: lowest zone of a wall, often given distinctive decoration

dalmatic: loose clerical garment with long sleeves

daughter house: monastery dependent on the motherhouse of a religious community

deacon: Christian clergy below the rank of priest

Deesis: Greek for petition; Byzantine depiction of Christ flanked by Mary and a saint, usually John the Baptist, who are witnesses to Christ's divinity and intercede with him on humans' behalf

dendrochronology, dendrochronological: method of dating wood by studying tree rings, which share growth patterns across a wide geographical area

despot: from the Greek for master or lord of a despotate (polity)

dhimmi: Jews and Christians in Islamicate lands, given protected status as fellow People of the Book

diaper: repeated pattern, often lozenge-shaped (diamond-shaped), that forms a background

dinar: Islamicate gold coin, originally the same size and weight as the Byzantine nomisma

diptych: two panels, of any material, hinged together; originally filled with wax as a writing surface

dirham: Islamicate silver coin

doctrine: something taught as true and supported by authorities

dogtooth: small ornamental pattern of projecting triangles

domed-octagon plan: Byzantine centralized church plan in which eight piers or columns that define the naos support a dome

donjon: principal towerlike stronghold of a castle, also used as a residence; synonymous with keep

drum: cylindrical or polygonal structure that supports a dome; or a cylindrical block, one of several that compose a column

dualist: faith that believes the universe is dominated by two opposing principles, dark and light or bad and good


Eastern Orthodox: Churches under the patriarchate of Constantinople, regardless of liturgical language, including such autonomous Churches as Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox

ecumenical: from the Greek word for the inhabited world used to describe Church councils that drew bishops and others from across the Christian world

effigy: any likeness or image of a person, but especially the full-body sculpture of the deceased on a tomb

elevation: side view of an architectural structure or its projection onto a vertical plane

émail brun: French for brown enamel, a method of lacquering a metal surface with linseed oil to turn it brown when heated; often gilded

embroidery: works, usually textile, decorated with stitched designs made of thread or fine wire

emir: Arabic for commander, leader of an emirate (province)

enamel: powdered glass and pigment, melted and fused to a metal, glass, or ceramic support

encaustic: painting technique in which pigments are mixed with melted wax and applied in layers

entablature: parts of a wall supported by columns

epigram: concise poem

epigraphy, epigraphic: monumental inscriptions, in any medium

episcopal: from the Greek for overseer; relating to bishops, who oversee Christian practice

epitaphios, pl. epitaphioi: Greek for on the tomb; large textile depicting the dead Christ used in Orthodox churches

epithets: descriptive names or titles for an individual

eremitic: ascetic practice of living alone, like a hermit, and a type of monasticism that emphasizes solitary life

Eucharist: from the Greek for giving thanks; the consumption of bread and wine representing the body and blood of Christ, the most important Christian liturgical activity

ewer: tall vessel for liquids with a pouring lip and handle

extramission: ancient and medieval theory that visual perception results from beams emitted by the eyes

eyvan: Persian for iwan, a barrel-vaulted space open on one side


facture: process or manner in which something is made, including its materials

feast: Christian holy day, usually associated with an event or saint

fibula, pl. fibulae: large pin to fasten a garment, often ornamented

filigree: jewelry technique using gold or silver wires

findspot: place where an object has been found, rather than where it was produced

finials: ornaments at the end of a spire or other vertical feature

fleur-de-lys: stylized iris, the royal emblem of France

flourisher: in a manuscript workshop, one who provides decorative flourishes

flutes: shallow vertical grooves on a column

flying buttress: buttress with arches that extend through the air to strengthen points of stress on exterior walls

foliate: leafy decoration

foliated Kufic: type of angular Arabic script in which the ends of some letters take on floral or leafy forms

folio: page or leaf of a manuscript (abbreviated as fol.)

font: basin used for Christian baptism

form, formal: basic shapes, designs, and components, such as lines, colors, volumes; and artistic concepts associated with form rather than with content

fresco: painting on wet plaster, so that pigments adhere firmly

Friday mosque: masjid al-jami', congregational mosque in which a sermon is delivered on Fridays to the local Muslim community

fritware: ceramic technique, using a body of ground quartz, clay, and ground glass; yields a firmer, whiter body than stoneware

frontal: carved, painted, or textile panel displayed in front of a Christian altar


gable: roof with two sloping sides that meet at a ridge, or the triangle at the end of a roof

gargoyle: projecting waterspout carved in the form of an open-mouthed creature

geniza: storeroom in which pages that refer to God are discarded rather than destroyed; often associated with a synagogue

gesso: preparatory layer for painting, made of animal glue, chalk, and pigment

gilt-silver: gold applied to a silver object

glacis: smooth, stone-lined slope used for defense

glaze, glazed: thin, opaque coating applied to ceramics after initial firing, then refired at a lower temperature to vitrify it; and the product that results

granulation:  tiny grains or balls of precious metal applied to a metal base

grave goods: objects, often of value, deliberately deposited in or near a grave

griffin: mythical composite creature with the head and wings of an eagle and body of a lion

grisaille: painting in monochrome, usually gray

groin vault: four-part vault formed by the intersection of two barrel vaults


habit: everyday clothing worn by a monk, nun, or priest

hadith: sayings of Muhammad and, in Shi'i Islam, the traditions of the imams

hagiography, hagiographic: idealizing biography (vita) of a saint

hajib: chamberlain, a high administrative position in an Islamic court

hajj: annual pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, required of all Muslims

hamdala: Arabic phrase, "Allah (God) be praised! Praise be to Allah! There is no god but Allah!"

headpiece: ornamented panel or frame that marks the beginning of a text in a manuscript

Hetoimasia: Greek for preparation; in iconography, the empty throne prepared for Christ's Second Coming

hijra: Arabic for emigration or flight, specifically Muhammad's journey from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE, the beginning of the Muslim calendar

hippodrome: racetrack for chariots or horse racing

historiated: decorated with identifiable scenes or figures, such as a manuscript initial or a capital

historiated initials: initial letter on a manuscript page with identifiable scenes or figures

hoard: deliberately hidden group of objects

Hodegetria: Greek for She Who Points the Way; an important icon of Mary in Constantinople and its copies

hypostyle: from the Greek for many rows of columns, supporting a roof


icon: Greek for image, not restricted by medium or size but often painted on a wooden panel; depiction of a holy figure or sacred event used to inspire devotion to the prototype

iconoclasm: image-breaking; period in which figural images were destroyed, including, in the Byzantine world, 726–87 and 815–43

iconoclast: one who destroys images, or a supporter of such destruction

iconography: subject matter and meanings of an artistic representation

iconophile: lover of images; a supporter of icons, who believes that prohibiting the making of images of Christ denies his human incarnation

iconophobia: fear of images

iconostasis: tall chancel screen in late and post-Byzantine churches, filled with icons

imam: Muslim spiritual or prayer leader; also a descendant of 'Ali and leader of a Shi'i community

imitatio Christi: Latin for imitation of Christ

impost: architectural element inserted between a capital and what it supports

incipit: opening words of a text in a book

incubation: practice of sleeping in a sacred space, in hope of a divinely inspired dream or cure

intaglio: sculptural technique in which a design is sunk into the surface by carving or incising

investiture: ceremonial conferring of symbols of office, especially robes (vestments)

Islamicate: art in regions in which Muslims are culturally dominant, but not necessarily religious art

itinerant: traveling, like some artists and courts

iwan: Arabic for a large barrel-vaulted space with walls on three sides


jamb figures: statues flanking a doorway, often attached to a column or wall

joggled voussoirs: masonry units that interlock, like puzzle pieces, to form an arch


Ka'ba: Arabic for cube; building in Mecca, focus of the hajj

Karaite: medieval Jewish movement that emerged in the ninth century in western Asia; its followers accept the Hebrew Bible and reject the oral laws of the rabbis and the Talmuds

katholikon: main church of an Orthodox monastery

keep: principal stronghold of a castle, also used as a residence; synonymous with donjon

kermes: red dye obtained from an insect that lives in oak trees near the Mediterranean

khagan, khaganate; or khan, khanate: Turkic titles for the chieftain of a territory in the Eurasian steppes, or the names for such a territory; among the Mongols, a khagan was superior to a khan

khanaqah: Sufi lodge

khatchkar: Armenian for cross-stone, a stone slab carved with a cross

khurus: tall transverse space, marked by a wall, between the nave and sanctuary of a Coptic (Egyptian Christian) church

kiswa: veil of the Ka'ba

kitabkhana: Arabic for scriptorium; from kitab, book

koimesis: Greek for sleep, the Byzantine name for the Dormition and assumption to heaven of Mary's body; feast day celebrated on 15 August

Kufic: angular Arabic script with clear vertical and horizontal lines

kumbl: Scandinavian burial monument


lancet: tall, pointed arch or window

lapis lazuli: blue semiprecious stone, mined in Afghanistan

late antique, late antiquity: the period of Roman imperial decline and its aftermath, roughly between the third and seventh centuries CE

late Byzantine: period of Byzantine history from 1204 (Latin conquest of Constantinople) or 1261 (Byzantine recovery of Constantinople) to 1453 (Ottoman conquest of Constantinople)

latten: gold-colored alloy of copper, zinc, tin, and sometimes lead

leadpoint: pencil-like tool of lead; or the drawings made from this tool

lectionary: book with biblical extracts arranged in calendar order for reading aloud in church

lintel: horizontal element that spans a door, window, or other opening

liturgy, liturgical: from the Greek for public duty; the collection of rituals, especially prayer services, prescribed for worship; or things connected to a liturgy, such as vestments or icons

loros: long, gem-encrusted scarf worn over a tunic by emperors and archangels

lost-wax method: casting technique, usually for a sculpture, in which a wax mold is covered with plaster; after the  wax is melted away,  molten metal is poured into the plaster cast to produce  the desired sculptural form, revealed after the outer mold is broken

lunette: half-moon shape, such as one framed by archivolts over a doorway

lusterware: ceramic technique in which metallic oxide is applied over opaque white glaze, then refired

Luther, Lutheran: Martin Luther (1483–1546), and followers of the oldest Protestant denomination, which emerged from Luther's Reformation of the Catholic Church in Germany, then Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe; emphasizes scripture rather than Church authorities and recognizes sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, and penance


madrasa:  Islamic educational institution, especially for religious studies

Maiestas Domini: Latin for Majesty of the Lord, iconography in which a blessing Christ is enthroned in a mandorla

mandorla: area of light, often oval or almond-shaped, that surrounds the representation of a holy person (usually Christ) as an indication of sanctity

mappa mundi: Latin for world map

maqsura: screened area near a mosque mihrab that creates a private prayer space 

Marian: having to do with Mary, the mother of Jesus

marginalia: figures or scenes on the edge of a page, object, or building

martyrium: shrine built in memory of a martyr

martyrology: catalog or account of Christian saints and martyrs who were included in an institution's prayers

masjid al-jami': congregational or Friday mosque, in which a sermon is delivered on Fridays to the local community

masonry: building material made of cut or carved pieces of stone or brick

matrix, pl. matrices: mold(s) for making a seal or other small object

meander: continuous ornamental pattern of angular or curved lines, named for the twisting Meander River (Turkey)

Melkites: Orthodox, Chalcedonian Christians in the eastern Mediterranean area who used Arabic as their language of worship

mendicant: someone who begs, of any faith, including a member of one of the religious orders dependent on charity that emerged in Europe in the thirteenth century

menologion: collection of Orthodox saints' lives (vitae) arranged according to their commemoration in the church calendar

menorah: stand holding oil lamps, the principal symbol of Jewish faith in the Middle Ages

mercantile: related to merchants or trade

metrical: text or inscription composed in poetic meter

metropolitan: archbishop who oversees an ecclesiastical province

Miaphysite: Greek for one nature; member of one of several Oriental Orthodox Churches who opposed the wording of the Council of Chalcedon about the dual natures of Christ and argued instead that Jesus is fully human and fully divine in one nature

micrography: tiny writing, especially Hebrew, often in decorative form

middle Byzantine: period of Byzantine history from the eighth or ninth century until 1204 (Latin conquest of Constantinople) or 1261 (Byzantine recovery of Constantinople)

midrash: ancient or early medieval commentary on Jewish Scripture

mihrab: arched niche in the qibla wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of prayer, toward Mecca

mikvah, pl. mikvaot: underground bathing pool used for Jewish purification rituals

millefiori: Italian for thousand flowers; colored glass tubes sliced and embedded in clear glass to form patterns

mina'i: Persian for enameled ware, twice-fired fritware ceramics produced in Seljuq Iran with some colors are under the glaze and others over; also called haft rang (seven colors)

minaret: tower, usually of a mosque

minbar: elevated pulpit in a mosque, with stairs leading to a platform from which sermons are delivered

minuscule: small script, widely used in medieval books

mirador: Spanish for a balcony or window that provides a scenic view

monastery: complex built for religious seclusion of celibate monks or nuns

monotheist: belief in or worship of one God

mortar: material used for binding brick or masonry construction, usually a mix of lime (a calcium compound) or plaster, sand, and water

mosaic: decorative technique for walls or floors that uses small tesserae to create images or patterns

motherhouse: main monastery of a religious community on which other monasteries depend

muqarnas: Islamicate decorative vaulting system based on repeating tiers of small nichelike elements that resemble honeycombs or stalactites (e.g., the ceiling of the Cappella Palatina)

myron: Greek for oil or unguent with miraculous healing properties, emitted by the body of some saints


naos: main worship space in a Byzantine centrally planned church, including the area under the dome but excluding the sanctuary

narthex: vestibule that precedes the entrance into the main space of a church, often extending the width of the facade

nave: central aisle of a longitudinal building, often wider and taller than the side aisles from which it is separated by columns or piers

necropolis: Greek for city of the dead, a large cemetery

Neoplatonic: philosophical school that emerged in late antiquity, modifying Plato's teaching; Neoplatonists understood the world as an emanation from a single principle, the One, with whom the soul has the potential to reunite

Nestorians: followers of Nestorios, bishop of Constantinople (d. after 451), who distinguished two persons in Christ, the son of Mary and the son of God, and therefore denied that Mary was the mother of God (Theotokos)

niello: shiny, dark metal alloy used as inlay in precious metalwork

nimbus: halo around the head of a ruler (in Roman and Sasanian art) or holy person (in Christian and Islamic art)

nomisma, pl. nomismata: Byzantine gold coin, equivalent to the Roman solidus, pl. solidi

numismatic: relating to coins


offices: structured Christian services separate from the mass, often at fixed hours; the daily round of monastic observances

opening: in manuscripts, pages that face each other when a book is open

openwork: perforating a material with decorative intent, or a work made in this technique

opus sectile: slices of stone, often in different colors, inlaid in patterns on walls or floors

orant: ancient pose of prayer with hands upraised and elbows bent

Orthodox, Orthodoxy: Greek for right belief; correct doctrine and worship, and adherents of this who follow the Byzantine liturgy and doctrines


palmette: motif of radiating palm leaves

Panagia: Greek for All Holy,"referring to Mary

Pantokrator: Greek for Ruler of All; an image of Christ as a mature, bearded figure holding a Gospel book, often depicted in the dome of a Byzantine church

parchment: animal skin that has been scraped and dried to produce a writing surface

parekklesion: side chapel of a Byzantine church, often funerary

parish church: main church of the smallest Christian administrative unit

Passion: from the Latin for suffering, the period in the life of Jesus from his entry into Jerusalem through his crucifixion, sometimes including his resurrection and ascension

paten: plate to hold bread in the Christian mass

patriarch: the biblical Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; or one of the most prominent Christian bishops, especially the archbishop of Constantinople, head of the Byzantine Orthodox Church

pectoral: object worn on the chest

pediment: triangular element in architecture, often over an opening

pendentive: curved triangle that makes a transition from a square base or bay to a circular dome

personification: an animal, inanimate object, or abstract idea given human characteristics

pier: vertical support in architecture, usually rectangular and of stone

pilaster: pier attached to a wall

pilgrim, pilgrimage: person who travels to a sacred place primarily for purposes of devotion, and devotional journeys

pinnacle: decorative vertical structure, often on buttresses or furnishings, that tapers to a spire

pishtaq: tall arch framing an iwan, or a monumental projecting portal in Islamicate architecture

plan: horizontal projection of an architectural structure or complex, as if seen from above

plaster: mix of water, lime, and sand, often bound with other materials, used to cover a wall

plate tracery: stone carved to accommodate glass, an early form of stained-glass window

polychromy: multiple colors

polykandelon, pl. polykandela: a metal lighting fixture that holds multiple glass oil lamps

polysemy, polysemic: having multiple meanings

polytheism: belief in or worship of multiple gods

pope: bishop of Rome, head of the Roman-rite or Catholic Church

porphyry: hard purplish stone quarried in Egypt, originally reserved for imperial use

portico: roofed space open on one side

portolan: chart used for maritime navigation

prependoulia: ornaments, usually pearls, suspended from a Byzantine crown to frame the face

presbytery: area around the main altar of a church, normally reserved for the clergy

proskynesis: act of bowing or prostrating oneself before a ruler or holy figure

prototype: original on which something is modeled; in icon theory, the holy figure "behind" the artistic representation

psalms: songs recited in Jewish and Christian worship, traditionally attributed to King David; collected in the Psalter

punching: decorating a surface with a pattern of small depressions made with a punch (tool)

putti: Italian for nude, male, winged toddlers derived from personifications of Cupid

pyx, pl. pyxes: small container, especially one that holds bread in the Christian mass


qibla: the direction of prayer for Muslims, toward the Ka'ba


rabbinic: having to do with rabbis, teachers who made Jewish legal rulings after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE led to the disappearance of Temple priests

radiating chapels: spaces that project from the apse or ambulatory of a church

radiocarbon: see carbon-14

recto: the front of a manuscript page or leaf, abbreviated as r; in Latin and Romance-language manuscripts, it is on the right of a two-page opening, but in Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian manuscripts, in which the text is read from right to left, it is on the left

refectory: dining hall in a monastery or other religious institution

relic: body part, clothing, or other object associated with a deceased holy person or in contact with one

relief: sculpture that projects from a background

reliquary: container to protect or display relics, in any medium

repoussé: metalwork technique that involves hammering from the reverse to create designs in relief

reredos: ornamental screen behind an altar, rising from ground level; it may be as wide as the nave and as tall as the vaults

retable: decorative panels or a shelf atop an altar or on a pedestal behind it

revetment: cladding or facing added to a surface

ribs: bands of protruding masonry that support a vault or dome

rib vault, ribbed vault: ceiling unit supported by a framework of protruding masonry that divides the vault into sections

rood screen: screen supporting a cross or crucifix; separates a Latin-rite church sanctuary from the nave

rosary: string of beads or knotted cord used to count prayers

rose window: large circular window filled with tracery and stained glass

rotunda: round building, usually covered by a dome

rubricator: from the Latin for red ocher, scribe who executes titles and chapter headings in red

rules, ruling, ruled: straight lines to guide the scribe writing a medieval manuscript

runes, runic: angular characters used in alphabets in medieval Scandinavia, Britain, and Mongolia


saga: narrative about heroic characters, primarily Scandinavian

samite: lustrous, heavy silk, made with a compound twill technique often using gold or silver thread

sarcophagus: Greek for flesh-eater; stone coffin used for burial, often carved

sardonyx: gem with translucent layers of sard (a mineral) and another mineral different in color

scribe: person who writes or copies a text by hand

scriptorium: room used for writing (and sometimes illustrating) books and documents; or a group of scribes and artists working together

scripture: body of religious writings considered authoritative or sacred

scroll: roll of flexible material used for writing and rolled up for storage

section: drawing that depicts a building as if cut vertically

sgraffito: Italian for scratched; ceramic in which the slip is scratched away to reveal the clay color underneath

shahada: profession of faith for Muslims, "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet [messenger]"

shahanshah: Persian for king of kings; emperor of an Iranian realm

Shahnameh (Arabic Shahnama): Persian for Book of Kings, the national epic poem written by Ferdowsi around 1000 but based on earlier legends

Silk Routes: network of overland and sea routes that linked China to western Asia, Byzantium, and Europe

side aisles: spaces flanking the central aisle of a longitudinal building, often separated by columns or piers

sinopia: dark red-brown pigment, made from iron oxide, used to make preparatory drawings for frescoes; the term is also used for the drawings

slip: watery clay, sometimes with additional materials, used to decorate ceramics

soffit: underside of a building part, such as an arch

spandrels: triangular wall surfaces above the springing of an arch

spolia: materials or artifacts taken and reused in a setting culturally or chronologically different from that of their creation

squinch: concave masonry sections, often arches, set across the corners of a square bay to make the transition to a circular dome

stained glass: molten glass to which metallic oxides are added to produce colors; after cooling, the pieces are cut, framed in lead or stone, and assembled into windows

staves, stave church: wooden posts and planks, and churches made of wood (surviving especially in Scandinavia) from the ninth century onward

steatite: very soft stone, easily carved and cut; also called soapstone

steppes: grassland prairies; the largest spans Eurasia from the Danube River to Mongolia

stonepaste: see fritware

stoneware: ceramics made of clay and stone, fired to become impervious to liquids

strapwork: ornament composed of or resembling twisted and intertwined straps or bands

stringcourse: continuous projecting horizontal band in architecture

stucco: thick plaster made of lime (a calcium compound), sand or powdered stone, and water; because stucco sets more slowly than plaster, it is more easily carved

style: distinctive characteristics of a work that connect it with others of its time and place

stylite: monk who stood atop a column (Greek stylos) to increase his proximity to heaven and distance from the world

Sufis: Muslim mystics who emphasize spiritual rapture and repetitive devotional formulas to attain union with God

sultan: ruler of an Islamicate state

sura: chapter of the Qur'an


taifa, pl. taifas: a post-Umayyad Islamic principality in the Iberian Peninsula ruled by an emir; or the period of their rule 

tapestry: textile handwoven on a loom, often with figural imagery

tauroctony: killing a bull, the central image in Mithraic cult sites

tempera: painting method that uses egg (especially the yolk) as a binding vehicle

templon: low barrier, often of stone, that separates a church sanctuary from the naos or nave; also called chancel screen

tesserae: cubes of stone, glass, or other material that constitute the building blocks of a mosaic

tetradrachm: ancient coin worth four drachmas, originally of pure silver but gradually debased before disappearing ca. 300

Theotokos: Greek for God-bearer, an epithet for Mary proclaimed at the Third Ecumenical Council (431)

tiraz: royal workshop; or textiles with a woven, embroidered, or painted Arabic inscription band made there

titulus, pl. tituli: labels or captions in a work of art that identify or explain the figures or scenes depicted, or introduce sections in a manuscript

torc: rigid neck ring, usually made of precious metal

tooled, tooling: intentionally incising ornament and leaving toolmarks on a surface

tracery: ornamental stonework in window or arch openings in late medieval European architecture

transept: wide aisle perpendicular to the nave and aisles in a basilica; usually toward the east end in a Christian church, before the apse, creating a cross-shape plan

translation: transfer of relics, often into a larger or more ornate shrine

Transubstantiation: doctrine in the Latin-rite church about the real presence of Christ's body and blood in the consecrated bread and wine of the mass

treasury: collection of precious offerings and sacred objects

triconch: part of a building with a semicircular apse on three sides of a rectangular space

triforium: intermediate level in a basilica elevation above the ground-level arcade; may contain a narrow passageway, but if the passage is wide this level is called a tribune

triptych: image in three parts, in any medium, in which the side wings often fold over the central panel

triumphal arch: ancient Roman victory arch

tympanum, pl. tympana: semicircular surface above a door, often decorated  

type: in Christian thought, an Old Testament prefiguration of an event fulfilled in the New Testament

typikon: foundation document for a Byzantine monastery that establishes its regulations  

typology: Christian interpretation of how New Testament events were prefigured in the Old Testament 


uncials: rounded capital letters

usurer, usury: lender or the practice of lending money and charging interest on the loan


vault: roof or ceiling based on the principle of an arch, usually made of stone

vernacular: local language, such as English, French, or Yiddish, as opposed to literary or foreign language, such as Latin

verso: the back of a manuscript page or leaf, abbreviated as v; in Latin and Romance-language manuscripts, it is on the left of a two-page opening, but in Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian manuscripts, in which the text is read from right to left, it is on the right

vestments: special garments worn for liturgical or other ritual occasions

vita: Latin for life; idealized biography of a Christian saint

vita icon: image of a saint surrounded by small scenes from his or her life

vizier: minister or high-ranking executive of an Islamicate state

votive: from the Latin for vow, objects offered to God or a saint in fulfillment of a vow or expressing a range of personal relationships with a divinity

voussoirs: wedge-shaped stones that create an arch

Vulgate: late fourth-century Latin translation of the Bible by St. Jerome; the Bible of the Roman-rite Church throughout the Middle Ages and beyond


waqfiyya: deed for a pious or charitable endowment (waqf) in the Islamicate world

westwork: monumental west end of a European medieval building, often with two towers and an upper-storey chamber

workshop: group of artists and apprentices collaborating to produce a particular type of work 




zoomorphic: having the form of an animal