Architectural Terms

Abacus: the square upper plate upon the capital of a column, supporting the architrave


Abutment: The solid part of a pier or wall that supports an arch and receives its thrust or lateral pressure


Altar: Symbolic of the Eucharist, worship, presence of God


Arch: Triumph, untimely death (when broken), passage from this world to the eternal life


Archtrave: (A) the lowest part of the entablature, or that part which rests immediately on the column (B) A molding over a door or window


Bas-Relief: Sculpture in low relief


Bead: A small round molding often cut like pearls on a string


Bead and Reel: A small round molding decorated with alternating bead and two small disks


Boss: A protuberant such as a stud or a knob


Buttress: A projecting mass of masonry, used for resisting the thrust of an arch, or for ornament


Capital: The uppermost part of a column, pilaster, or pillar


Caryatid: A draped female figure supporting an entablature, used in place of a column or pilaster. Male figures used in the same way are referred to as "Atlantes"


Catacomb: Ancient subterranean burial places consisting of passages with side recesses for tombs, especially those near Rome, or Appian Way, supposed to have been a place of refuge and also interment of early Christians


Cenotaph: An empty tomb or monument erected in honor of a person who is buried elsewhere


Cinerary: Used for ashes, especially those of the cremated dead


Coemeterium or Subterranean Vault: Provides enclosed interment for an entire family


Colonnade: A series of comulmns placed at regular intervals (When in front of a building it is called a "portico;" when surrounding, or carried about three sides of a building, a "peristyle"


Dentil: One of a series of small square blocks or projections or cornices, in an ornamental band, used particularly in the Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite orders


Egg & Dart: An alternating pattern resembling an egg with decorative points or "darts" on both sides


Entablature: That part of an order which is over the columns including the architrave, frieze, and cornice


Entasis: An almost imperceptible swelling of the shaft of a column


Exedra: A monument resembling a large bench that has its origins in ancient temples and basilicas (Older forms are usually elliptical or semi-circular, while contemporary forms are often rectangular)


Flute: A chancel of curved section; often applied to one of the vertical series of such channels used to decorate columns or pilasters


Fret: An ornamental design consisting of repeated and symmetrical figures, often in relief, contained within a band or border


Frieze: (A) the part of the entablature between the architrave and cornice, a flat surface either uniform or broken by triglyphs and often enriched by sculpture, (B) Any sculptured or richly ornamented band in a building


Key: See also Fret


Keystone: A central wedge-shaped stone typically found at the top of an arch responsible for holding the structure


Ledgers: Large monuments that cover the ground above the interment, typically the size of the grave itself and often used in conjunction with a family monument


Lintel: A horizontal member spanning an opening


Mausoleum: Usually an above-ground crypt with doors; broadly classified as a sepulchral sarcophagus, subterranean vault (coemeterium), and columbarium.


Miter: A joint formed by two beveled ends or edges


Niche: A hollow or recess, generally within the thickness of a wall, for a statue, bust, or other ornament


Obelisk: An upright four-sided pillar, gradually tapering as it rises, and cut off at the top in the form of a pyramid


Ogee: A molding consisting of two members, the one concave, the other convex, having a profile in the form of the letter S


Ossuary: A box containing the bones of the deceased


Pedestal: A short type of obelisk also the portion of a memorial that supports a vase


Pier: (A) Pillars, posts, or a mass of solid stonework for supporting an arch; (B) A piece of wall between two openings


Pilaster: An upright architectural member, rectangular in plan, structurally a pier, but architecturally treated as a column and projecting from the wall only one-third or less of its width (The bases, capitals, and entablatures of pilasters have the same parts as those of columns.)


Pillar: A pier or column intended to support an arch, rood, statue, etc.; a firm upright, insulated support for a superstructure ("Pillar" is a general term for a stay or support while "column" denotes a pillar of a particular order or type


Plinth: A square block serving as a base for a statue, vase, etc.; or the lowest part of the base of a column


Portico: A covered space enclosed by columns, at the entrance of a building


Pulpit: Testimony, Word of God, instruction in religion


Pylon: A structure forming an entrance to an Egyptian temple, consisting of a getaway, on each side of which stood a tower in the shape of a truncated pyramid, covered with sculpture (The tower itself was sometimes called a pylon.)


Pyramid: A solid body on a triangular or polygonal base with triangular faces meeting at one point used for tombs in ancient Egypt


Sarcophagus: A place in which the deceased is interred, or a place intended for that purpose


Sepulchral Sarcophagus: A type of mausoleum designed to accommodate one or more interments and features a removable cap that may be ornamented


Serif: One of the fine lines of a letter, especially one of the fine cross strokes at the top or bottom


Shrine: An alter or sacred place


Subterranean Vault or Coemeterium: An enclosed interment for an entire family


Tablet: An upright monument set atop a base; may be found in a variety of measurements with the top cut in a variety of ways including serpentine, straight, oval or round, and apex


Tetrastyle: A building with four columns in front


Triglyph: An ornament on the frieze of the Doric order, repeared at regular intervals; consists of a rectangular tablet slightly projectedand divided nearly to the top by two parallel and perpendicular gutters or channels, called "glyphs" into three parts or spaces (A half channel is also cut upon each of the perpendicular edges of the tablet. Triglyphs alternate with metopes.)


Tripod: any utensil, vessel, or object supported on three legs


Volute: A kind of spiral scroll-shaped ornament used on the Ionic and Composite capitals, of which it is a principal ornament