In architecture, an apse (plural apses; from Latin absis: "arch, vault" from Greek ἀψίς apsis "arch"; sometimes written apsis, plural apsides) is a semicircular recess covered with a hemispherical vault or semi-dome, also known as an exedra. In Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic Christian church (including cathedral and abbey) architecture, the term is applied to a semi-circular or polygonal termination of the main building at the liturgical east end (where the altar is), regardless of the shape of the roof, which may be flat, sloping, domed, or hemispherical. Smaller apses may also be in other locations, especially shrines.[1]

Typical early Christian Byzantine apse with a hemispherical semi-dome in the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe
Typical floor plan of a cathedral. Apse is shown in beige


An apse is a semicircular recess covered with a hemispherical vault. Commonly, the apse of a church, cathedral or basilica is the semicircular or polygonal termination to the choir or sanctuary, or sometimes at the end of an aisle. In relation to church architecture it is generally the name given to where the altar is placed or where the clergy are seated.[2] An apse is occasionally found in a synagogue, e.g. Maoz Haim Synagogue.

The apse is separated from the main part of the church by the transept.[3]

Smaller apses are sometimes built in locations other than the east end, especially for reliquaries or shrines of saints.[4]


The domed apse became a standard part of the church plan in the early Christian era.[5]

Related features

In the Eastern Orthodox Church 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:


The chancel (or sanctuary), directly to the east beyond the choir contains the High Altar, where there is one (compare communion table). This area is reserved for the clergy, and was therefore formerly called the "presbytery," from the Greek presbuteros meaning "elder", or in older and Catholic usage, "priest".[6]

Chevet-apse chapels

Hemi-cyclic choirs, first developed in the East, came to use in France in 470.[7] By the onset of the 13th century, they had been augmented with radiating apse chapels outside the choir aisle, the entire structure of Apse, Choir and radiating chapels coming to be known as the chevet (French, "headpiece").[8] 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 altar and choir, giving access to chapels in the chevet. An "ambulatory" ("walking space") may refer to the arcade passages that enclose a cloister in a monastery, or to other types of aisles round the edge of a church building, for example in circular churches.



Triple apse of Basilica di Santa Giulia, northern Italy


East end of the abbey church of Saint-Ouen, showing the chevet, Rouen, Seine-Maritime, France

Vault of choir - Notre-Dame de la Dalbade - Toulouse

A chevet apse vault

St chads in poulton-le-fylde

A simple apse set into the east end of St Chad's parish church, at Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, England


The decorated apse of the Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily

Jona (SG) - Busskirch St Martin IMG 9213 ShiftN

The apse of St. Martin church in Busskirch, community Jona, Switzerland


Apse for Torah Ark in the ancient Maon Synagogue


The triple apse of an Orthodox church in Yaroslavl, Russia

See also


  1. ^ "Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Floor Plan". nationalshrine.com. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  2. ^ T. Poole (1907). "Apse". Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 3 June 2011.
  3. ^ Jane Vadnal (January 1998). "transept". Glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture. University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  4. ^ "Apse". Wordnik - Wiktionary et al. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  5. ^ "Apse". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  6. ^ "Where in the New Testament are Priests Mentioned". Catholic Answers. Catholic Answers. Retrieved 2018-09-01.
  7. ^ Moss, Henry; The Birth of the Middle Ages 395-814; Clarendon, 1935
  8. ^ "Chevet", Encyclopædia Britannica
  • Joseph Nechvatal, "Immersive Excess in the Apse of Lascaux", Technonoetic Arts 3, no. 3, 2005.

External links

Apse Heath

Apse Heath is a hamlet on the Isle of Wight, UK. Apse Heath is centered on the intersection of Newport Road and Alverstone Road. At the 2011 Census the Post Office said the population of the hamlet was included in the civil parish of Newchurch, Isle of Wight.

It is northeast of Whiteley Bank and south of Winford. Apse Heath is bordered by the leafy villages of Alverstone and Queen's Bower, and is surrounded by areas of woodland and agricultural land. It also sits roughly 2 miles east of the village of Newchurch, and 1 mile west of Lake.

The word "apse" in the local dialect means an aspen tree, or Populus tremula. Thus, Apse Heath refers to a Heath (small moor) populated by Aspens.

Apse Heath Methodist Church has a congregation of 11 to 15 that meets every Sunday to worship. The church was founded in 1875 by the Bryanites or Bible Christians. The cornerstone of the present chapel was laid by Lord Alverstone, on 10 September 1902. Electric lights were installed in the church and hall in 1956.Apse Heath has a shop, called "Raj's Premier Stores", some other businesses and a post office.

The Hamlet has gained some popularity over pranksters and their efforts to alter the sign with marker pens or electrical tape, changing the 'P' in 'APSE' to an 'R', thus editing the sign to read 'ARSE HEATH'. Although Island Roads tends to hastily clean the sign down and remove the damage, the sign is rarely ever clean for long, much to the amusement of both schoolchildren from the hamlet and the neighbouring village of Lake and tourists alike.

On 12 January 2006, two horses were injured in a fire in some stables in Apse Heath. On 5 August 2007, a small plane crashed, briefly after taking off from Isle of Wight Airport in Sandown in Lake,next to Apse Heath, killing all 4 passengers.Apse Heath was the site of brickmaking operations in the past. It was also the site of a sweet factory, which employed a number of local people until it closed down.

Transport is provided by Southern Vectis route 8, which runs through the hamlet between Newport, Sandown, Bembridge and Ryde.

Apse chapel

An apse chapel or apsidal chapel is a chapel in traditional Christian church architecture, which radiates tangentially from one of the bays or divisions of the apse. It is reached generally by a semicircular passageway, or ambulatory, exteriorly to the walls or piers of the apse.

Apse of Sant Climent, Taüll

The Apse of Sant Climent de Taüll (Catalan: Absis de Sant Climent de Taüll) is a Romanesque fresco in the National Art Museum of Catalonia, Barcelona. This is one of the masterpieces of the European Romanesque. from which the unknown Master of Taüll takes his name. Painted in the early 12th century, it was in the church of Sant Climent de Taüll at the Vall de Boí, Alta Ribagorça in the Catalan Pyrenees until removed in 1919-1923, along with other parts of the fresco decoration, in an attempt to preserve the paintings by placing them in a stable, secure museum setting.

The apse has been replaced in the church by a replica, and some original decoration remains there. MNAC Barcelona also has the paintings from the triumphal arches, a side apse, the consecration inscription and an earlier window.

Apse of Santa Maria, Àneu

The Apse of Santa María d'Àneu is a romanesque apse of the church of Santa Maria, Àneu, the transferred frescos from which are now exhibited at Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, in Barcelona.

The decoration of the apse of the church of Santa María d’Àneu combines themes and motifs from the Old and New Testaments. Originally painted at the Church of Santa María d’Àneu (La Guingueta d’Àneu, Lleida)


The Latin word basilica (derived from Greek: βασιλική στοά, Royal Stoa, the tribunal chamber of a king) has three distinct applications in modern English. Originally, the word was used to refer to an ancient Roman public building, where courts were held, as well as serving other official and public functions. It usually had the door at one end and a slightly raised platform and an apse at the other, where the magistrate or other officials were seated. The basilica was centrally located in every Roman town, usually adjacent to the main forum. Subsequently, the basilica was not built near a forum but adjacent to a palace and was known as a "palace basilica".

As the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, the major church buildings were typically constructed with this basic architectural plan and thus it became popular throughout Europe. It continues to be used in an architectural sense to describe rectangular buildings with a central nave and aisles, and usually a raised platform at the opposite end from the door. In Europe and the Americas the basilica remained the most common architectural style for churches of all Christian denominations, though this building plan has become less dominant in new buildings since the latter 20th century.

Thirdly, the term refers specifically to an official designation: a large and important Catholic church that has been given special ceremonial rights by the Pope, whatever its architectural plan. These are divided into four major basilicas, all of which are ancient churches located within Rome, and, as of 2017, 1,757 minor basilicas around the world.Some Catholic basilicas are Catholic pilgrimage sites, receiving tens of millions of visitors per year. In December 2009 the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe set a new record with 6.1 million pilgrims during Friday and Saturday for the anniversary of Our Lady of Guadalupe.


A cathedra (Latin for "chair"; from Greek: καθέδρα kathédra, "seat") or bishop's throne is the seat of a bishop. It is a symbol of the bishop's teaching authority in the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion churches. Cathedra is the Latin word for a chair with armrests, and it appears in early Christian literature in the phrase "cathedrae apostolorum", indicating authority derived directly from the apostles; its Roman connotations of authority reserved for the Emperor were later adopted by bishops after the 4th century. A church into which a bishop's official cathedra is installed is called a cathedral.

The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church makes use of the term cathedral to point out the existence of a bishop in each local church, in the heart of ecclesial apostolicity.


A crypt (from Latin crypta "vault") is a stone chamber beneath the floor of a church or other building. It typically contains coffins, sarcophagi, or religious relics.

Originally, crypts were typically found below the main apse of a church, such as at the Abbey of Saint-Germain en Auxerre, but were later located beneath chancel, naves and transepts as well. Occasionally churches were raised high to accommodate a crypt at the ground level, such as St Michael's Church in Hildesheim, Germany.


Favria is a comune (municipality) in the Metropolitan City of Turin in the Italian region Piedmont, located about 30 kilometres (19 mi) north of Turin.

Favria borders the following municipalities: Rivarolo Canavese, Busano, Oglianico, and Front.

It is home to the church of San Pietro Vecchio, which houses 15th centuries frescoes from the Master of the Marca di Ancona. Of the original 11th-12th centuries edifice, today the base of the bell tower and the Romanesque-style apse remain. The current appearance dates to the 18th-century restoration.

Iglesia de San Vicente, Toledo

The Iglesia de San Vicente is a church located in Toledo (Castile-La Mancha, Spain), it appears as a parish already in 1125, although, there is documentation that speaks of that was founded by Alfonso VI shortly after the conquest.

The current building is the result of successive reconstructions, transformations and additions. Thus, the oldest element preserved is the apse which, by its structure, does not appear before the 13th century, following a type very similar to that of the Cristo de la Vega, in which the exterior stands out, and the straight section, which precedes the apse proper. It also coincides with that date the use of friezes in the corner, separating horizontally the bodies of arches, and the same typology of arches, which repeats the folded half-points and the horseshoe pointed, covered by lobed, appearing in the [Legend of Cristo de la Vega]]. The whole was disfigured by adding, on the axis, a large Baroque shield and opening two spans, for illumination of the main chapel and a crypt. In the interior it conserves the double archery that runs the perimeter of the apse, simple blind arches of horseshoe. To the right, taking advantage of the thickness of the wall, has incorporated a small Gothic chapel, with vault of crossery, of beginnings of the 14th century.

Once the parish was abolished in 1842, the building now houses the Toledo Art Circle, for purposes different than liturgical.


A mosaic is a piece of art or image made from the assembling of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. It is often used in decorative art or as interior decoration. Most mosaics are made of small, flat, roughly square, pieces of stone or glass of different colors, known as tesserae. Some, especially floor mosaics, are made of small rounded pieces of stone, and called "pebble mosaics".

Mosaics have a long history, starting in Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium BC. Pebble mosaics were made in Tiryns in Mycenean Greece; mosaics with patterns and pictures became widespread in classical times, both in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Early Christian basilicas from the 4th century onwards were decorated with wall and ceiling mosaics. Mosaic art flourished in the Byzantine Empire from the 6th to the 15th centuries; that tradition was adopted by the Norman Kingdom of Sicily in the 12th century, by the eastern-influenced Republic of Venice, and among the Rus in Ukraine. Mosaic fell out of fashion in the Renaissance, though artists like Raphael continued to practise the old technique. Roman and Byzantine influence led Jewish artists to decorate 5th and 6th century synagogues in the Middle East with floor mosaics.

Mosaic was widely used on religious buildings and palaces in early Islamic art, including Islam's first great religious building, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. Mosaic went out of fashion in the Islamic world after the 8th century.

Modern mosaics are made by professional artists, street artists, and as a popular craft. Many materials other than traditional stone and ceramic tesserae may be employed, including shells, glass and beads.

Niche (architecture)

A niche (CanE, UK: or US: ) in classical architecture is an exedra or an apse that has been reduced in size, retaining the half-dome heading usual for an apse. Nero's Domus Aurea (AD 64–69) was the first semi-private dwelling that possessed rooms that were given richly varied floor plans, shaped with niches and exedras; sheathed in dazzling polished white marble, such curved surfaces concentrated or dispersed the daylight.

The word derives from the Latin nidus or nest, via the French niche. The Italian nicchio for a sea-shell may also be involved, as the traditional decoration for the top of a niche is a scallop shell, as in the illustration, hence also the alternative term of "conch" for a semi-dome, usually reserved for larger exedra.

In Gothic architecture, a niche may be set within a tabernacle framing, like a richly decorated miniature house ("aedicule"), such as might serve for a reliquary. The backings for the altars in churches ("reredos") can be embedded with niches for statues. Though a niche in either Classical or Gothic contexts may be empty and merely provide some articulation and variety to a section of wall, the cult origins of the niche suggested that it be filled with a statue. One of the earliest buildings which uses external niches containing statues is the Church of Orsanmichele in Florence, built between 1380 and 1404. The Uffizi Palace in Florence (1560–81) modified the concept by setting the niche within the wall so it did not protrude. The Uffizi has two dozen or so such niches containing statues of great historical figures. In England the Uffizi style niches were adopted at Montacute House (c. 1598), where there are 9 exterior niches containing statues of the Nine Worthies. In Fra Filippo Lippi's Madonna, the trompe-l'oeil niche frames her as with the canopy of estate that was positioned over a personage of importance in the late Middle Ages and Early Modern Europe. At the same time, the Madonna is represented as an iconic sculpture who has "come alive" with miraculous immediacy.

Expanding from its primary sense as an architectural recess, a niche can be applied to a rocky hollow, crack, crevice, or foothold. The sense of a niche as a clearly defined narrow space led to its use describing the relational position of an organism's species, its ecological niche.

Orphir Round Church

The remains of the Orphir Round Church (or Round Kirk), dedicated to Saint Nicholas, are located in Orphir Parish on the Mainland of Orkney, Scotland. It is thought to have been built by jarl (earl) Haakon Paulsson (earl from 1103 to 1123) as penance for murdering his cousin and co-ruler Magnus Erlendsson (later Saint Magnus) in the late 11th or early 12th century. According to the Orkneyinga saga, earl Haakon took sole power in 1117 after the killing of Magnus, and the round kirk was later rededicated to St Magnus. The saga refers to a "large drinking-hall" with a "magnificent church" nearby. The remains of the drinking hall, known as the Earl's Bu, can still be seen, as well as a later Norse horizontal watermill.It is the oldest surviving round church in Scotland. The building's design was inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It consisted of an apse on the eastern side of its 6-metre (20 ft) wide circular nave. It consisted of a circular nave about six metres in diameter with a semicircular apse with a central window. The walls are one metre thick.

Almost the whole church survived until 1757, when most of it was demolished to provide stone for the new parish kirk, which has also now been demolished. Only the apse and a small segment of the round kirk's nave wall now survive. The site is now in the care of Historic Environment Scotland and is open to the public. The remains are protected as a scheduled monument.

Our Lady of Hvosno

Our Lady of Hvosno (Serbian: Богородица Хвостанска/Bogorodica Hvostanska, Albanian: Manastiri i Virgjëreshës së Shenjtë të Hvosnos) is a Serbian Orthodox Christian monastery. It is situated at the foot of Mokra Mountain, nearby hamlets Vrelo and Studenica, some 20 kilometers north of Peć, Kosovo. Our Lady of Hvosno was declared Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance on 10 July 1967, and Republic of Serbia claims to have it under protection.In the third decade of the 13th century, on foundations of the basilica, a church dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin was erected and used as a seat of Episcopate. The single-nave church had a dome and an altar apse, semi-circular on the inside, rectangular on the outside. On the northern and southern sides of the narthex, there were two parecclesia, whose outside was masked with a flat surface. The chapels were topped by two towers of greater height than the church dome. The church is in compliance with the Rascian architecture. In the mid-14th century, another single-nave building with a semi-circular apse on the east, and a barrel-vault was adjoined to the church. The second half of the 16th century is a period of artistic thrive of the monastery. Debris of the monastery complex were first researched in 1930, and then from 1966 to 1970, when remains of the church and the monks dwelling-house, together with segments of the fortification, were preserved.


In architecture, a semi-dome (or half-dome) is a half dome that covers a semi-circular area in a building.

Southern apse from Pedret

The Southern apse from Pedret is a fresco painting which was acquired during the 1919-1923 campaign of the Junta de Museus. The artwork originated from the southern apsidiole of the Church of Sant Quirze de Pedret and is currently exhibited in the Romanesque Art collection at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.

St. Paul's Church, Basel

St. Paul's Church (German: Pauluskirche) is a Reformed Church in Basel, Switzerland, part of the Evangelical-Reformed Church of the Canton Basel-Stadt. The church was constructed between May 1898 and November 1901 by Karl Moser (1860–1936) and Robert Curjel, and features a Neo-Romanesque architectural style. The apse is fitted with a stone pulpit that is raised behind a stone communion table. The apse also features a gallery, with a central arch behind the pulpit, in which the organ and choir are placed. It features artwork in Art Nouveau style including relief work on the church exterior above the main entrance by sculptor Carl Burckhardt (1878–1923), mosaics on the inner front wall by Heinrich Altherr (1878–1947) and stained glass windows by Max Laeuger (1864–1952).

Trinity College Kirk

Trinity College Kirk was a royal collegiate church in Edinburgh, Scotland. The kirk and its adjacent almshouse, Trinity Hospital, were founded in 1460 by Mary of Gueldres in memory of her husband, King James II. Queen Mary was interred in the church, until her coffin was moved to Holyrood Abbey in 1848.It was located on the south side of Calton Hill.

Vall de Boí

The Vall de Boí (Catalan pronunciation: [ˈbaʎ də βuˈi]) is a narrow, steep-sided valley and a small municipality in the province of Lleida, in the autonomous community of Catalonia, northern Spain. It lies in the northeastern corner of the comarca of Alta Ribagorça, on the edges of the Pyrenees. It is the largest municipality of the region, with its main town being Barruera.

The valley is best known for its nine Early Romanesque churches, making it the site of the densest concentration of Romanesque architecture in Europe. It was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on 30 November 2000. The valley also includes the highest ski resort in the Pyrenees, at Boí-Taüll, and borders the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park which lies to the northeast.

Wythburn Church

Wythburn Church is located in an isolated position by the A591 road on the east bank of Thirlmere, Cumbria, England. It is an active Anglican church in the deanery of Derwent, the archdeaconry of West Cumberland, and the diocese of Carlisle. Its benefice is united with those of St Mary, Threlkeld, and St John, St John's in the Vale. The church is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II listed building. The poet William Wordsworth described it as a "modest house of prayer".

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