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Typical early Christian Byzantine apse with a hemispherical semi-dome in the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe
Typical floor plan of a cathedral, with the apse shaded

In architecture, an apse (plural apses; from Latin absis 'arch, vault' from Ancient Greek ? 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 are found elsewhere, especially in shrines.[1]


An apse is a semicircular recess, often 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 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.[]


The domed apse became a standard part of the church plan in the early Christian era.[4]

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 Greek presbuteros 'elder',[] or in older and Catholic usage 'priest'.[5]

Chevet-apse chapels

Hemi-cyclic choirs, first developed in the East, came to use in France in 470.[6] 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").[7]


See also


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

External links

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