Material Culture of Religion Glossary: First Section



Collected and © by Susan McKee

For use by students; not for publication or other distribution

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Muslim (Gulf States, esp. Saudi Arabia): A full-length, black outer garment worn by women, always with a scarf covering the head (shayla) and sometimes with a face covering (veil) and gloves.

Abhidharma Pitaka (Sanskrit)
Buddhist: Scholastic treatises on psychology and philosophy. Part of the Tripitaka.

Solid masonry placed to counteract the lateral thrust of a vault or arch.

A plant with thick, fleshy, scalloped leaves used on carved ornaments of Corinthian and Composite capitals, and on other moldings.

acroterium (pl. acroteria)
A block on the lower edge of a pediment to support statuary or decoration.


  1. Ancient Greece: The inner sanctuary of a temple, where oracles were delivered
  2. Any private sanctuary.

Adi Granth
(see: Guru Granth Sahib)

ædicule (=ædicula, =aedicule)

  1. A shrine framed by two columns supporting an entablature and pediment, set in a temple and containing a statue.
  2. The framing of a door, window, or other opening with two columns, piers or pilasters supporting a gable, lintel, plaque, or an entablature and pediment.
  3. A steel and glass canopy at an entry.

Buddhist: A family, patron or secret deity enshrined in a special building; no one who is not an initiate can enter this shrine.


  1. Buddhist: The collection of sutras which are used in the Sanskrit-based tradition of Buddhism.
  2. Jain: The scripture of Jainism, believed by some to be the actual sermons given by Mahavira to his disciples.

Hindu: Holy or sanctified fire at the altar in a temple.

Agnus Dei(Latin: "lamb of god")
Christian: A wax charm or other amulet stamped or imprinted with the emblem of Jesus.

Christian: An open space in a church, usually flanking the nave on each side and divided from it by columns or piers; it runs parallel to the main areas - nave, choir and transept - and is (typically in cathedrals) separated from them by an arcade. In Midwestern vernacular usage, an aisle is the linear empty passageway or path between rows of pews or chairs; typically, there are three: one in the center and two more at the left and right sides of the seating area(s). The word originally described sections of a church building added on as wings (from the French aile ) to the sides of the long, central area, or nave.

Muslim (Spanish/Moorish): Trelliswork brick design often decorating apses.

Muslim (Spanish/Moorish): Pairs of small windows divided by a column or pier.

Akhand Ramayana
Hindu: Scripture [incomplete].

Hindu: Sacred rice used during worship.

A building material; often used for columns.

Muslim (Shi'ite): A representation of the standard of Husayn, often topped with a panjatan.


  1. Christian: A full-length white linen garment worn by clergy when celebrating communion.
  2. Christian: A long garment, often elaborately embroidered, worn by clergy under a chasuble.

Muslim (Spanish/Moorish): A projected tower joined to the main wall by a bridge.

Muslim: The name of a magazine published by the Muslim Students' Association of the United States and Canada during the 1970s and 1980s.

Al-Kitab (Arabic: "The Book")
Muslim: The Qur'an.

Christian: The room in a monastery in which alms are distributed.


    1. A structure on which to place or sacrifice offerings to a deity.
    2. The altar signals the place of arrival and rebirth. It is the focal point of the sanctuary, the seed within the pod of its enclosing floor, walls and roof, the world navel. Because the altar serves as the power point for regeneration, it is usually raised or lowered in relation to its surroundings. When lowered, it represents the open womb from which creation springs. A raised altar suggests the swelling of seed energies sprouting into diverse expressions. Often an apse defines this part of the sanctuary. The enclosing space takes on the role of the womb; the raised altar is the germinating inner force. Light is greatest here. Coming from east-facing windows or groupings of candles, it energizes the renewing ritual. (adapted from The Temple in the House)
    3. In classical antiquity, the altar was usually constructed of stone and situated in the open air at some distance to the east or at the entrance of the temple. Sacrifices to the gods and spirits of the earth were performed here. Since in most cultures substitute offerings have come to take the place of living beings, the term has come to designate any raised place or table, whether outside or in a shrine, church or temple, upon which offerings are placed
    4. Christian: =altar table, =Lord's Supper Table, =Lord’s Table, =communion table.
    5. Christian: The surface on which clergy prepare the Eucharist.
    6. Christian (Roman Catholic): The consecrated table, either fixed or portable, upon which the Mass is celebrated.
    7. Christian: The altar often is the focal point of the church. Once solid, and usually made of stone, the altar is now often made in simple, table-like shapes in stone, wood or other material. Once always placed against the back wall of the apse, altars now often are moved away from the wall so that the clergy face the congregation when preparing communion.
    8. Christian: If there is more than one altar in a church, one is designated the main altar or the high altar.
    9. Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): Altars that are smaller and "off center" in churches are often referred to as side altars.

A semicircular or polygonal aisle enclosing an apse or a straight-ended sanctuary, which provides passage around the sanctuary; originally used for processional purposes. In Gothic Christian church architecture, it usually is a continuation of the side aisles around a chancel or apse, providing space for processions around the sanctuary.

An elliptical or circular space surrounded by rising tiers of seats for an audience.

Analects of Confucius (=Lun Yu)
One of the Four Books, that, along with the Five Classics, comprise the Confucian Canon.

anse de panier (French: "basket arch")
An arch formed by a segment of a large circle continued left and right by two segments of much smaller circles.

antechurch (or, forechurch)
Christian: An appendix to the west end of a church, resembling a porch or a narthex, but several bays deep and usually consisting of nave and aisles.

A covering for the front of an altar, usually of metal or fabric.

Ornament based on honeysuckle flower and leaves, common in ancient Greek and Roman architectural styles.


    1. Books from the Hebrew Bible included in the (Jewish) Septuagint and (Roman Catholic) Vulgate but excluded from the Protestant canon of the Old Testament.
    2. Christian: Early Christian writings not included in the generally accepted version of the New Testament.
    3. Christian (Protestant): The Protestant apocrypha generally consists of: 1-2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, additions of Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (or the Wisom of Jesus Son of Sirach), Baruch, Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Holy Children, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasses, 1-2 Maccabees.

apex stone (=saddle stone)
The top stone in a gable end.


    1. Dressing room of a (public or quasi-public) bath.
    2. Jewish: The dressing room adjacent to a miqvah.

A raised panel below a window-sill, sometimes shaped and decorated.


    1. A curved recess, often semi-circular, projecting from a building.
    2. Christian: A vaulted semicircular or polygonal termination, usually to a chancel or chapel. In traditional church construction, an apse is the vaulted end portion of a nave, transept or aisle, usually the circular or angular typically east end of a church.
    3. The eastern end of a basilica, usually semicircular in shape and arranged to accommodate the seats of clergy behind the altar.

An adjectival form of apse, usually referring to the semicircular end of a church, especially the east end of a Gothic cathedral.


    1. Row of arches supported by freestanding or engaged piers or columns.
    2. A range of arches carried on piers or columns, either free-standing or blind (i.e. attached to a wall).

Structure, usually curved, spanning an opening and supporting the weight of upper parts of buildings, such as domes. An arch is designed so that it can be supported only from the sides. The style of the arch often provides a clue to the overall style of the church. In general, rounded arches indicate Romanesque and pointed arches indicate Gothic.

    1. basket arch (=three-centered arch): An arch formed by a segment of a large circle continued left and right by two segments of much smaller circles.
    2. chancel arch: The arch at the west end of a chancel.
    3. discharging arch (=relieving arch):An arch of rough construction placed in a wall, above any opening, to relieve it of much of the superincumbent weight.
    4. drop arch: A pointed arch with a span greater than its radius.
    5. elliptical arch: An arch that is a half ellipse from a center on the springing line.
    6. four-centered arch: A late European medieval-style arch composed of a pointed arch of four arcs, the two outer and lower ones springing from centers on the springing line, the two inner and upper arcs from centers below the springing line.
    7. Gothic arch: xxxx
    8. horseshoe arch (=Moorish arch): Muslim: An arch that can be either a pointed or a round horseshoe.
    9. ogee arch: A pointed arch with four arcs, the centers of two inside the arch, of the other two outside; this produces a compound curve of two parts, one convex and the other concave.
    10. shouldered arch: An arch with a lintel connected with the jambs of a doorway by corbels, which start with a concave quadrant and continue vertically to meet the lintel.
    11. stilted arch: An arch with its springing line raised by vertical piers above the impost level.
    12. strainer arch: An arch inserted across a nave or an aisle to prevent the walls from leaning.
    13. three-centered arch: see also anse de panier.
    14. Tudor arch: A late European medieval pointed arch whose shanks start with a curve near to a quarter circle and continue to the apex in a straight line.


    1. In Classical architecture: The beam or lowest division of the entablature, resting directly upon the capitals of the supporting columns.
    2. The molded frame of a window or a door.
    3. A collective term for the elements composing the molding around a door or window.


    1. The central open space of an amphitheater.
    2. Any building for public contests or displays in the open air or in a large interior space.

ark (=echal)

    1. Common usage: A sacred box or container.
    2. Jewish: Refers to the ancient container for the tablets outlining the covenant with God.
    3. Christian: Usually refers to Noah's Ark, as in the Biblical story.

Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): In sacred depiction, arrows piercing the body of a man in agony indicate that St. Sebastian is portrayed.

Muslim (Spanish/Moorish): Elaborate wooden coffered ceiling.

Carefully cut stone.


    1. Common usage: Central courtyard or hall open to the sky and surrounded on all sides by roofed areas, often with a colonnade.
    2. In traditional Christian church architecture: an open court in front of a church, usually a colonnaded quadrangle.

atrushan (Parthian)
Zoroastrian: Fire altar in a temple.

aumbry (=ambry)
Christian: A cupboard or recess in a church chancel used to keep sacred vessels and books.

Zoroastrian: The scriptures of Zoroastrianism.

axe (tool)
Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): In sacred depiction, an axe indicates the man depicted is St. Joseph.

Christian: Traditional churches are aligned on a west-to-east axis, with the main entrance at the west end and the chancel at the east end: a path of salvation leading to the altar, the symbol of communion with Christ, a journey from the base desires of humans to submission to the Godhead. The worshipper follows the path along the axis to the redemptive sacred place, where humans and God were joined by the celebration of the Eucharist, a threshold between earth and heaven. The axis, with its distinct beginning and end, demonstrates Christianity's linear timeline.

Muslim (Spanish/Moorish): Glazed tiles frequently forming star patterns.


bagin (Parthian)
Zoroastrian: Image shrine in a temple.

Buddhist: A two-story monastery enclosing a courtyard.

Buddhist: A monastery, smaller and simpler than a bahal.

A platform projecting from a wall, enclosed by a railing or balustrade, supported on brackets or columns or cantilevered out.

A short post or pillar in a series supporting a rail or coping and thus forming a balustrade.

A series of short posts or pillars supporting a rail or coping.

baptismal font
Christian: An often ornate, usually raised water basin alongside which a "sprinkling" baptism takes place.

baptismal pool
Christian: A large water holder, usually recessed in the ground or floor, where immersion baptism takes place.

baptistery (=baptistry)
Christian: A separate building or the portion of a church used for baptism and containing a baptismal font or (less often) baptismal pool.

Projecting boards placed against the incline of the gable of a building and hiding the ends of the horizontal roof timbers; sometimes decorated (common in Gothic revival buildings).

Late Renaissance (17th and 18th century) European architectural style, typified by bold, highly elaborate decoration.

A small turret projecting from the angle on the top of a tower or parapet.


    1. Ancient Rome: A public hall consisting of a large room with side aisles.
    2. Christian: A traditional style for a church, which is divided into a nave and two or more aisles, the former higher and wider than the latter, often lit by the windows of a clerestory and with, or without, a gallery.

A small basilica.

basma (Russian)
Christian (Eastern Orthodox): An ornamented and often bejeweled metal cover for the frame of an icon.

bay window
An angular or curved projection of a building front filled by fenestration. If curved, also called a bow window; if on an upper floor only, called an oriel.

NOTE: Derived from the Old French berfrei (= tower), the word has no connection with "bell".

    1. Common usage: The upper room or story in a tower in which bells are hung, and thus often the bell-tower itself, whether it is attached to or stands separate from the main building.
    2. Christian: The timber frame inside a church steeple to which bells are fastened.

bellcote (=bell gable)
A framework on a roof to hang bells from.


bema (=bimah, =bima; Greek)

    1. Common usage: A (generic term for) speaker's platform: usually wooden and somewhat rectangular, sometimes with a curved front and back, often with open sides approached by steps.
    2. Christian (Western): Raised stage for the clergy in the apse of Early Christian Churches.
    3. Christian (eastern): A space raised above the nave level of a church, which is shut off by the iconostasis and contains the altar.
    4. Jewish: A platform in the synagogue on which stands the desk from which the Pentateuch and Torah is read.

Bible (=Holy Bible, =The Scriptures)

    1. Popular usage: Refers to any honored set of writings.
    2. Jewish: refers to Hebrew Bible.
    3. Christian: usually refers to Old Testament plus New Testament.
    4. Christian (Roman Catholic): The Old Testament consists of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Josue, Judges, Ruth, 1-4 Kings, 1-2 Paralipompenon, 1-2 Esdras, Tobias, Judith, Esthe, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, Lamentations, Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggeus, Zacharias, Malachias, 1-2 Machabees. The New Testament consists of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts of the Apostles, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Phlemon, Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Apocalypse.
    5. Christian (Protestant): The Old Testament consists of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. The New Testament consists of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts of the Apostles, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Revelation.
    6. Christian (Protestant): The apocrypha consists of: 1-2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, additions of Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (or the Wisom of Jesus Son of Sirach), Baruch, Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Holy Children, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasses, 1-2 Maccabees.
    7. Jewish: The Torah consists of: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Prophets consists of: Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. Hagiographa consists of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1-2 Chronicles.

Bible, Books of the
See Bible.

bird of blessing
Christian: A dove, or other bird, suspended above the altar symbolizing the Holy Spirit.

bodhi tree
Buddhist: The specific tree under which Sakyamuni sat when he attained enlightenment and became the Buddha.

Christian: A person portrayed in a sacred depiction holding a book is considered to be an important member of the church hierarchy.

Book of Common Prayer
British. Liturgy of Protestant Church of England, writing of which was overseen by Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Archbishop of Canterbury.

Book of Law
New Age: Written by Aleister Crowley, a key text in Ordo Templi Orientis.

An ornamental knob or projection covering the intersection of ribs in a vault or ceiling; often carved with foliage.

Buddhist (Theravada): A hall found in buildings dedicated to the purpose of teaching, preaching and meditation.

bow-string truss
A composite structural device whereby the load-bearing capacity of the main beam is improved by a lower-tension chord and intermediate vertical or diagonal compression struts in the form of a horizontal bow.

A small supporting piece of stone or other material, often formed of scrolls or volutes, to carry a projecting weight.

A building is any enclosure of sufficient space for a person to move about it.

building, model of
Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): A person portrayed in a sacred depiction holding a model of a building was the founder or builder of that building.

Muslim (Gulf States): A woman's face mask, made of leather or stiff fabric, that covers the entire face except for the eyes.

butsu-dan (Japanese)
Buddhist: A household altar.

A mass of masonry or brickwork projecting from or built against a wall to give additional strength, often helping to support a vault or roof; a characteristic of the Gothic architectural style.


Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): A small chapel behind and above the high altar in Spanish-style churches.

A metal strip used to join pieces of glass such as for light fixtures or windows.

campanile (Italian)
(see also belfry)

    1. A bell-tower, usually freestanding.
    2. Christian: A common feature of religious compounds.

(see also choir screen)
Christian: A latticed screen or grille separating the choir from the main body of a church.

candy cane
Christian: A Christmas symbol derived from the crozier carried by St. Nicholas, who was a bishop.

A standard or generally accepted or authorized collection of scripture.

A projection or hood over a door, window, tomb, altar, pulpit, niche, etc.

The head or crowning feature of a column; the decorative top portion of a column. The form, usually of stone, that supplies the visual transition between the top of a column and whatever the column supports. decorated section of an Order on top of the shaft and directly below and supporting the architrave.


    1. Common usage: A niche or other semi-enclosed area, such as in a library, where a student might sit and work or read.
    2. Christian: A niche in a cloister where a monk might sit and work or read.

An ornamental panel in the form of a scroll or sheet of paper with curling edges, usually bearing an inscription and sometimes ornately framed.

The hinged part of a window, attached to the upright side of the window frame; also, the wide concave molding in door and window jambs and between compound columns or piers in Late Gothic-style architecture.

casement window
A metal or timber window with the sash hung vertically and opening outwards or inwards.

catenary roof cable
A cable that hangs freely between two points of support.

Christian: The bishop's chair or throne in his cathedral, originally placed behind the high altar in the center of the curved wall of the apse.


    1. Christian: The bishop's church.
    2. Christian: A church of any size that contains the cathedra.
    3. Popular usage: Any large, ornate church-like structure, such as the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Indianapolis (which is used by a Masonic order rather than a bishop).
    4. Popular usage: Any large building or space with transcendent use (ie. cathedral of basketball).

cella (=naos)
Principal room of a temple.

A funerary monument to a person or persons buried elsewhere.

Christian: An elaborately decorated hand-held container for burning incense which priests swing from golden chains in sanctuaries to purify or sanctify the air.

Temporary framework, usually made of timber, used for support during the construction of arches, vaults and domes.

Muslim (Shi'ite, esp. in Iran and Lebanon): A square of fabric large enough to cover a woman from the top of the head to the ankles; usually held or pinned closed under the chin.

chair-rail (=dado-rail)
A molding around a room to prevent chairs, when pushed back against the walls, from damaging its surface. Generally placed at the height of the top of the back of the chair.

Buddhist: A small stupa, sometimes containing a relic, but usually holding mantras or holy scriptures.

Hindu: A round weapon, one of the four (sacred) objects held by Vishnu.


    1. Christian: A sacramental vessel.
    2. Christian: A goblet used for the wine in the liturgy of communion.

Hindu: Hand-operated fans often used in temples.

chancel (From Latin: cancellus)

    1. Christian: That part of the east end of a church in which the main altar is placed.
    2. Christian: The area of a church containing the main altar, an area which is reserved for clergy and choir.
    3. Christian (Roman Catholic): The screen that separated th eastern part from the main body of the church. The term more usually describes the space enclosed and is applied to the whole continuation of the nave east of the crossing.

chapa (Nepalese)
Hindu: A small house annexed to a temple, in which feasts are held and rituals performed.


    1. Christian: A place set aside for prayer
    2. Christian: A building used for worship.
    3. Common usage: A building that looks like a Christian chapel but is used for secular public functions.
    4. Chantry chapel (Christian, especially Roman Catholic): A chapel attached to, or inside, a church, established and reserved by endowment for the celebration of Masses for the soul of the benefactor or of such others as he/she may order.

Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): The administrative assembly responsible for cathedral affairs.


    1. Christian: Main secular meeting hall of a monastic community, often adjoining a cloister.
    2. Christian: The building in a cathedral complex set aside for meetings of the chapter.

Jewish: Served at the Passover Seder, this dish (usually grated apples and ground walnuts flavored with wine and cinammon) symbolizes the mortar used by Israelite slaves in Egypt.

Christian: Thigh-length garment with wide sleeves, usually embroidered, worn by clergy over the longer alb.

Christian: The French term for the east end of a church, consisting of apse and ambulatory with or without radiating chapels.

chigi (Japanese)
Forked finials on the roof ridge of a building frame; used primarily on buildings of cultural significance or noble patronage.


    1. Popular usage: An animal that is part human and part beast.
    2. Popular usage: An animal with the head of a lion, a goat's body and a serpent's tail. Many winged chimeras reside on Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Hindu/Buddhist: Offering hall.


    1. Common usage: Singing group.
    2. Christian: A singing group attached to a religious institution or organization.
    3. Christian: The part of a church where divine service is sung.
    4. Christian: In cathedrals, the section of the church east of the transept that is sometimes raised above the level of the nave is called the choir because traditionally this is where the choir stands to sing during the service.
    5. Christian: The area of a church reserved for the singing group.
    6. Christian: The eastern area of a church or cathedral, normally occupied by the choir and the clergy; =chancel.

choir screen
Christian: Screen separating the choir area from the congregational area of a church, usually decoratively carved or ornamented.

Chong Kui
Taoist: A deity often represented by a statue on an altars, whose sword and fierce expression protect the altar and scare away demons. (See also Chong Kui.)

Buddhist: A small shrine in high mountain regions (esp. Himalayas); multi-tiered stone monument that often contains sacred relics.

chowk (Nepalese)
Hindu: A palace or public courtyard (usually including one or more temples).

Christian (Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox): Consecrated oil made of a mixture of olive and balsam, used as an accessory in rites of baptism, confirmation and ordination.

Christian: A holder for chrism.

Ch'un Ch'iu (=Spring and Autumn Annals)
Confucian: One of the Five Classics which are part of the Confucian Canon, it includes extracts from the history of the Chinese state of Lu from 722 to 484 BCE, said to have been compiled by Confucius.

Chung Yung (=Doctrine of the Mean)
Confucian: One of the Four Books which are part of the Confucian Canon.


    1. Christian: A building used for worship.
    2. Popular usage: Any structure used for any religious or spiritual purpose.

church, model of
Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): A person portrayed in a sacred depiction holding a model of a church was the founder of that church.

churchhouse (=church; American Appalachian dialect)

A canopy raised over a high altar. It is normally a dome supported on columns.

An external covering or skin applied to a structure for aesthetic or protective purposes.

A thin wooden board, thicker along one long edge than along the other, used in roofing or in covering the outer walls of a building; the thick edge of each board overlaps the thin edge of the board below it, thus to repel water.

Style of architecture (order) used in ancient Greece and Rome, and imitated in later periods.

clerestory (=clearstory)

    1. Christian: The topmost part of the church building, the upper story of a church wall, pierced by windows illuminating the central portion of the interior space.
    2. Popular usage: A row of windows above the ceiling level of the first floor in any building. A clerestory is below the main eaves, but above any projecting secondary roofs.


    1. Christian: Roofed or vaulted passage way surrounding an open quadrangle which connects domestic areas within a monastic building.
    2. Christian: The enclosed living/working arrangements of a monastery or nunnery that excludes the outside world.
clootie (Scottish)
Rags, pieces of cloth, clothing remnants (usually tied or) draped over the branches of particular bushes or trees in places where sprites are thought to live. For good luck or for remembrance (of person who wore the clothing).

Codex of Calixtus (=Liber Sancti Jacobi)
Christian (Roman Catholic: Spanish): A five-volume collection, written in the 12th Century, of the legends, stories and miracles connected with St. James.

Decoration of a ceiling, a vault or an arch soffit, consisting of sunken square or polygonal ornamental panels.


    1. A row or range of columns carrying an entablature or arches.
    2. A long row of columns in a line.

Interment place for cremated remains either within a church or on its grounds.

A vertical post-like support. Usually consists of three parts: a base, a shaft (usually circular or polygonal), and a capital at the top. A column in Classical style usually is described using the Greek order to which it conforms. They are (in ascending complexity) Doric (fluted column with no separate base, plain capital), Ionic (fluted column, separate base, twin-scrolled capital) and Corinthian (fluted column, separate base, capital with carved acanthus leaves). Other common styles are Tuscan (plain column, separate base, plain capital) and Composite (resemble Corinthian, but with spiral motifs at each of the corners of the capital).

communion rail
Christian: The low fence or railing in a church before which congregants kneel to receive communion from clergy or assistants.

compound column
Supporting column comprising multiple attached or detailed shafts. Reduces the visual mass of the support and maintains a large load-bearing cross-sectional area.

A Greek architectural style that resembles Corinthian, but with spiral motifs at each of the corners of the columns.

A semicircular niche surmounted by a half-dome.

Christian (Roman Catholic): A separate place in a church, often in the form of a wooden cubicle or other booth, where the faithful enter individually to meet the priest seated behind a partition. To him they confess their sins and from him they receive remission and forgiveness in the name of God.

Confucian Canon
Confucian: The Confucian scriptures, which include the Four Books and Five Classics.

Decorative masonry support for a balcony.

A capping or covering to a wall, either flat or sloping, to throw off water.

Stone blocks, projecting from a wall, used to support a horizontal part of a building, such as a roof or floor beams. Often elaborately carved or molded.

One of the Classical orders of architecture, typified by the acanthus-leaf decoration on the capital and fluted columns.


    1. Uppermost projecting part of an entablature surmounting the frieze and often decorated with moldings and dentils on its lower face.
    2. Any continuous projecting decorative molding surmounting an architectural feature.

Christian: A walled choir usually found in the center of a church.


    1. Christian: A monk's hood.
    2. A metal covering, shaped somewhat like a monk's hood, fixed over a chimney or other vent and revolving with the wind to improve ventilation.

Christian: A small table or shelf near the altar, on which the sacraments are placed.

Jewish: The stepped outer edges of a temple platform.

Motif or leaf design carved into the projecting ribs that decorate parapets and towers of Gothic buildings and their derivatives.


    1. A structure consisting of an upright with a transverse beam used esp. by the ancient Romans for execution.
    2. (often capitalized) The Cross on which Jesus was crucified.
    3. A Christian symbol consisting of an upright bar traversed by a horizontal one.
    4. There are many standard forms: Greek, Latin, Calvary, patriarchial, Lorraine, papal, Celtic, Maltese, Saint Andrew's, tau, pommée, botonée, fleury, avelian, moline, formée, fourchée, crosslet, quadrate and potent.
    5. saltire (x-shaped) cross

Christian: The area of intersection between the nave, transepts and chancel, usually topped by a dome or tower; symbolically, the point of decision on the journey to Christ.

The highest part of an arch, where the keystone is located.

crown and sphere
Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): A man portrayed in a sacred depiction holding a crown and sphere was a king.

Crown of St. Stephen I
Crown of St. Stephen I
Christian (Hungarian): The importance of this symbol of royal power in Hungary derives from the belief that it was worn by St. Stephen, the founder of the Hungarian State. It remains the most important symbol of royal power in Hungary and has been for centuries the object of religious veneration.

crozier (=crosier)
crozierChristian: The staff of a bishop or abbot carried as a symbol of pastoral authority. It is shaped like a shepherd's crook in reference to Christ as the Good Shepherd.

Christian: A cross in wood, metal, or other substance bearing a representation of the crucified Christ.


    1. Christian: A chamber or vault beneath the main floor of a church, not necessarily underground, and usually containing chapel, graves and/or relics.
    2. The basement area in a building, especially of a church or cathedral.

A small dome, usually springing from a circular or octagonal base, crowning a roof or turret.

curtain wall
A lightweight outside wall held off the main structural frame and serving no load-bearing purpose.



    1. Decorative band.
    2. The finishing of the lower part of an interior wall from the floor to waist height.

Zoroastrian: A round structure, open to the sky, in which the dead are placed for disposal by birds.

A clay/mud mixture used to fill (daub) the spaces between logs used in construction; lime is sometimes added for whitening.

dar-ul-ifta (=dar-al-ifta) (Arabic)
Muslim: The office of religious verdicts.

Hindu/Buddhist: Flagpole for prayer flags.

See fenestration

A small, square block projecting from a cornice of a Classical entablature, providing a rhythmical façade.

diaconikon (=diaconicon, Greek: "sacristy")
Christian (Greek Orthodox): That part of a church which lies to the right of the sanctuary, but behind the iconostasis, and in which the deacons are responsible for the sacramental vessels and liturgical books required for services.

Two panels joined together by hinges.

Doctrine of the Mean (or, Chung Yung)
Confucian: One of the Four Books which are part of the Confucian Canon.


    1. A vault of even curvature erected on a circular base.
    2. A convex solid roof, usually circular or polygon in its plan, with a base that may be circular, square or polygonal.
    3. Common types (categorized by the shapes of both the base and the section through the center of the dome) are: saucer, polyhedral and onion. Many domes are topped with a lantern to provide light inside.

door facing (=door frame)

One of the Classical orders of architecture, typified by plain capitals and fluted columns without bases.

dove (bird)
Christian: In sacred depiction, denotes the Holy Spirit.

Hindu/Buddhist: An enclosed overhang forming a retreat area for meditation.

dragon (mythic animal)
Christian: In sacred depiction, a dragon indicates that the man portrayed is St. George; he is usually shown on horseback, piercing a dragon with his lance.

Vodou: Lavishly decorated ritual flags made of satin, velvet, or rayon, and adorned with sequins, beads, or appliqué. These flags are presented at the beginning of Vodou ceremonies to salute the spirits and to marshal the energies of their devotees.


    1. Vertical wall supporting a dome or cupola; it may be circular, square or polygonal in plan. The drum gives the dome extra height and allows space for the inclusion of windows to light the interior.
    2. The cylindrival blocks of stone that make up a column.

Hindu/Buddhist: Assembly hall.

dwarmul (Nepalese)
Hindu: The main gate of a building, esp. a temple.

Buddhist: a house enshrining protective Tantric deities used for common worship.


Lower edge or underpart of a sloping roof, projecting over and beyond face of the supporting walls.


Common usage: Symbol of new life.
Jewish: Roasted egg, served at a Passover Seder, symbolizes renewal, rebirth and life's eternal circle.

Eight Immortals
Taoist: Figures often found on altars symbolizing that men and women, young and old, rich and poor, healthy and disabled, can all achieve the Tao.


    1. The components of a building, such as windows, walls, doors, corridors, stairs and chimneys.
    2. Christian: the components of communion.

The external faces of a building; also a drawing made in projection on a vertical plane to show any one face of a building.

E-Meter (=Electropsychometer, =meter)
Scientologist: An instrument which helps the auditor and preclear locate areas of spiritual distress or travail.

A space surrounded by something else, such as a fence or a wall.

The arrangement of rooms leading from one to another.

engaged column
Column with a shaft attached to or incorporated into the thickness of a wall or pier.

Enochian manuscripts
New Age: Written by John Dee, key texts in Ordo Templi Orientis.

Used in Greek architectural styles, it comprises the architrave, frieze and cornice (from lowest to highest, one above the other), supported by a colonnade. More specifically, the entablature is a horizontal lintel above columns and below the roof, the gable of which might be closed by a triangular pediment.

equilateral arch (=pointed arch)
An arch produced by two curves, each with a radius equal to the span and meeting in a point at the top.

entrance (as architectural concept)
Entrances are not just gates or doors, but can also include the passage by which a place may be entered as well as the area beyond the threshold. Entrances link together different spaces.



    1. A semicircular or rectangular recess with raised seats.
    2. More loosely, any apse or niche or the apsidal end of a room or a room opening full width into a larger, covered or uncovered space.

Jewish: A small, round, yellow fruit that looks like a lemon that’s used in the celebration of Sukkot.


    1. The objects used in communion
    2. Christian ritual: =Communion, =Mass

exoskeletal frame
A frame positioned outside the building envelope.


The public, exterior, front or front elevation of a building. Derived from the same root as "face": the doors and windows of many buildings are arranged in patterns that recall the eyes, nose, and mouth of the human face.

The finishing applied to the outer surface of a building.

fascia (plural: fasciae)
A plain horizontal band, usually in the architrave, which may consist of two or three fasciae oversailing each other and sometimes separated by narrow moldings.

The style or manner in which windows are distributed on a building. [defenestration, a euphemism for throwing someone out a window with intent to humiliate while causing grievous bodily harm, often has religious motivation in historical narrative or fiction]

Christian: A shrine for relics designed to be carried in processions that is kept behind the high altar.

festoon (=swag)
A carved ornament in the form of a garland of fruits and flowers, tied with ribbons and suspended at both ends in a loop; commonly used on a frieze or panel.


    1. Any object used to control nature (or the spirit world or an aspect of the divine) in a magical fashion.
    2. An object venerated as the dwelling place of a spirit (or an aspect of the divine).
    3. Examples include charms, talismans or amulets. Fetishes are common in sanctuaries.


    1. Common usage: Ritual headgear in Masonic rites.
    2. Muslim (historic Turkish): Crimson brim-less headcovering worn in the later Ottoman Emire and in some successor-states, outlawed in Turkey in the early 20th century by Kemal Ataturk.

A formal ornament at the top of a canopy, gable, pinnacle, etc.; often a detached foliated fleur-de-lis form.

(See also agni.)

fitra (Arabic)
Muslim: The tax paid on 'Id Day.

Five Classics

Five "K's"
Sikh: The five objects carried by members of the Khalsa: kaccha, kanga, kara, kesh and kirpan.

flèche (=spirelet)
A slender spire, usually of wood, rising from the ridge of a roof.

fleur-de-lis (French: "lily-flower")

    1. The royal arms of France.
    2. Christian: Common decorative theme in churches.

A series of stairs unbroken by a landing.

Concave vertical grooves carved into the shaft of a column, characteristic of Classical oOrders. Produces an emphasis on vertical form and volume by creating distinctive shadow lines.

flying buttress
An arch or half-arch transmitting the thrust of a vault or roof from the upper part of a wall to an outer support or buttress; characteristic of Gothic churches and cathedrals.


    1. quatrefoilquatrefoil: A four-lobed stylized leaf or flower motif.


    1. trefoil: A three-lobed stylized leaf or flower motif.

Christian: An open-topped stone receptacle for holy water, used in baptismal rites.

foundation (or, foundations)
The underground section of a building, which supports the weight above ground.

Four Books

    1. Lun Yu
    2. Meng Tzu


A geometric ornament of horizontal and vertical straight lines repeated to form a band; often used as a decorative band of surface ornamentation or molding.


    1. Middle section of the entablature of a Classical order, above the architrave and below the cornice.
    2. Band of relief, molded or painted decoration, usually high on a wall.
    3. The decoration of the middle division of the entablature.



The triangular upper part of a wall between the sides of a pitched roof.

Buddhist: An often-ornate, bell-shaped finial crowning a bahal.

Christian: An upper story over an aisle, opening onto the nave.

gallery arcade
The range of columns along the open side of a gallery.

Gan Ying Pian (Chinese)
Taoist: One of the Taoist scriptures.

gargoyle (Latin gurgulio: "throat", Old French gargouille: "throat", "gurgling sound"
A grotesque or humorous carving of a figure, human or animal; sticking out from a building, it often disguises a waterspout, especially on a Gothic-style Christian church.
A gargoyle is a grotesquely carved human or animal figure found on an architectural structure, originally designed (believe it or not) to serve as a spout to throw rainwater clear of a building. Gutters ran along the spine of the gargoyles, and the water ran out through the mouth of the gargoyles and fell to the streets below. Gargoyles later became strictly ornamental and assumed many forms. gurgulio, and the Old French gargouille, not only meaning "throat" but also describing the "gurgling" sound made by water as it ran through the figure. Superstition held that gargoyles frightened away evil spirits while serving their practical function. After the lead drainpipe was introduced in the sixteenth century, gargoyles primarly served a decorative function. In addition to the practical use of removing water away from the building, gargoyles were also used to incorporate pagan imagery into church teaching. During the middle ages, the church was heavily involved in converting people from pagan religions to Catholicism. Seeing some recognizable images from their customs and traditions helped in the transition of these illiterate people to Catholicism.

gate (as architectural concept)
A gate frames its invitation by using precise components: an approach, twin pillars, crossbeam, door, latch, key, king and threshold. The twin pillars guard the opening to new awareness. The crossbeam spans the gulf between the pillars, uniting the space between them. The cross created by the meeting of beam and pillar is said to symbolize the passage into the transcendent, the mysterious boundary between inner and outer worlds. Hindering the passage through the gate are the door and latch, representing the veil and challenge posed by rigid patterns of thinking. The door blocks and opens, intimidates and welcomes. Its lock is the first barrier to overcome. The key symbolizes new insights and techniques for unlocking the mind's abilities. When the catalyst for transformation has done its work, the threshold of the gate is crossed, marking the transfer of a spiritual center of gravity from the known to the unknown. The threshold is perpendicular to the path that crosses it, creating a sort of compass that points to the four corners of the world. (adapted from The Temple in the House)

Gemara (Aramaic)
Jewish: A commentary on the Mishnah forming the second half of the Talmud.

Christian (Roman Catholic): One of a pair of basins used for the ritual washing of the priest's hands before the Mass.

genizah (Hebrew: "storing")
Jewish: A place, often beneath the bema of a synagogue, for storing books or ritual objects that have become unusable; often used as the synagogue's treasury.

Rocker beam, cast by spinning molten stainless steel into mechanical joints for steel-frame buildings.

Hindu/Buddhist: A type of club, one of the weapons of Vishnu and a Tantric symbol.

Hindu/Buddhist: A symbolic Tantric bell, the female counterpart of the dorje or vajra (ritual scepter or thunderbolt that is symbol of the Absolute).

Hindu: A riverside platform or set of stairs for ritual bathing and cremation.

ghusl khanah
Muslim (Shi'ite): The area in an imambargah where corpses are prepared for burial.

Buddhist (Tibetan): A monastery.

Buddhist: Gongs are used in temples and homes to announce the time of a meeting, to mark different phases of a service, and as a symbol aiding in meditation.

Hindu: An elaborate high gateway of a temple that is typical of South Indian architectural style.


    1. The architectural style that developed in northern France and spread throughout Europe between about 1150 and 1400 CE includes pointed arches, large windows, stone tracery, stone vaulted ceilings and flying buttresses. Often used for churches, cathedrals and other public buildings. Succeeded Romanesque style.
    2. In Midwestern vernacular use, Gothic applies to buildings with pointed arches and vaults, windows with pointed arch tops, large amounts of glass in the walls and an overall feeling of great height.

Hindu/Buddhist: A tall, pointed brick and plaster shrine supported by a one-story stone base.

Green Book
Muslim (Libya): The philosophy of Colonel Qaddafi.

The sharp edge formed by the intersection of vaulting surfaces.

Guan Yin
Taoist: One of the statues found on Taoist altars representing Guan Yin, the mother goddess of China, symbolizing the healing power of love and compassion. (See also Guan Yin in second section of glossary).

A 19th century architectural design formed of two or more interlaced bands with openings containing round devices.

gurdwara (=gurudwara; Punjabi: "door of the guru")
(see also church)
Sikh: A place of worship where the Guru Granth Sahib scripture is installed. In addition to the area for worship in which regular rituals, festivals and life cycle rites are performed, there is a langar ( a communal kitchen in which food is prepared and shared).

Guru Granth Sahib (=Adi Granth) (Punjabi)
Sikh: The principal scripture; contains devotional compositions written by the Sikh gurus and recorded during their lifetimes. It also contains hymns by Hindu and Muslims. Written in Sanskrit, Persian, Hindi and Punjabi, the compositions are set in rhymed couplets. It is printed in Gurmukhi script, an alphabet adapted by the second guru, Guru Angad, for the Punjabi language. It has standardized pagination, all copies having 1,430 pages. When closed it is wrapped in an elegant cloth (rumal). It is opened only under a canopy and is then protected with a flywhisk.

gutka (Punjabi)
Sikh: A book comprised of passages from scripture.


Jewish: The part of the Hebrew Bible consisting of the books of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1-2 Chronicles.

hagioscope (=squint)
Christian: An obliquely cut opening in a wall or through a pier to allow a view of the main altar of a church from places whence it could not otherwise be seen.

haiden (Japanese)
Shinto: Hall of worship standing in front of a shrine. Usually the largest building at a shrine, before which or in which prayers and ceremonies are held.

Muslim (Shi'ite): Special kind of food served during Muharram.

hall church
Christian: A longitudinal plan for a church, in which the nave and aisles are of approximately equal height.


    1. Christian: A halo (golden disc or portion thereof) behind the head of a person in a sacred depiction denotes a saint.
    2. Common usage: A halo (golden disc or portion therof) behind the head of a person in a sacred depiction denotes a holy person.

hametz (Hebrew: “leavened food”)
Jewish: Breads made with yeast (leavening). During Passover, consuming leavened food is forbidden. Hametz applies to more foods than just bread that rises because of yeast. It also applies to various kinds of grain that expand when they are in contact with water, creating a kind of process of rising: oats, barley, wheat, spelt and rye. There is disagreement between the Ashkenazi and Sephardim traditions in regard to legumes and rice. Sephardim permit them on Passover while Ashkenazi forbid them.

hammam (Arabic)
Muslim: Public bath, an important social institution in Muslim society.

hammer and anvil
Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): In sacred depiction, a goldsmith's hammer and anvil indicates the man portrayed is St. Éloi.

hanukkiyyah (Hebrew)
Jewish: Name for the candelabra or menorah used to celebrate Hanukkah.

Buddhist: The eyes on a stupa, which are placed to face the four cardinal directions.

Jewish: A mixture (usually) of chopped walnuts, apples, cinnamon and kosher wine served at a Passover seder as a reminder of the mortar used by the Israelite slaves in Egypt.

Hebrew Bible

    1. Jewish: The Torah or Pentateuch and sections generally grouped as Prophets and Hagiographa. (see also Septuagint)
    2. Christian: The Old Testament.

hei tiki
Sacred stone statue or amulet.

A spiral design motif.

Jewish: Bitter herbs (typically horseradish) served at a Passover Seder symbolizes the bitter suffering of the Jewish slaves in Egypt.

A Classical portico with six supporting columns.

Muslim: Headcovering (typically a scarf) used by Muslim women as a sign of modesty.

The external angle formed by the meeting of two sloping roof surfaces.

Holy Bible
(see Bible)

Holy Water
Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): Water that has been blessed, placed in a small basin near a church entrance so that worshipers may dip their fingers into this water as they enter the sanctuary, often marking themselves with the sign of the cross in remembrance of their baptism.

honden (Japanese)
Shinto: Inner sanctuary of a shrine, standing behind the haiden. Behind the haiden and not entered by the public is the smaller and higher honden, in which the kami is presumed to reside.

Buddhist (Zen): A formal hall for rituals and ceremonies with an altar against a wall.

honsha (Japanese)
Shinto: A building at a shrine dedicated to the principal kami of the shrine.

hossu (Japanese)
Buddhist (Zen): A whisk used to flick mosquitoes away, carried ceremonially by Zen masters.

Christian: The bread (or wafers) consecrated as the body of Christ during communion. As such, whether it is consumed by those present or kept as a "reserved sacrament," it is regarded in Roman Catholic and some other Christian denominations as an object of veneration.

Hua To
Taoist: One of the statues found on altars representing Hua To, the patron of healing and Chinese medicine.

huppah (Hebrew)
Jewish: A wedding canopy, traditionally suspended from four poles, each of which is held by someone supporting it. It is also a symbolic term for marriage itself.

husayniyya (=husseiniya, =ziyarat khanah)

    1. Muslim (Shi'ite): A center for study and prayer.
    2. Muslim (Shi'ite): An area of an imambargah where devotional objects are kept.

A hall in which the roof is supported by a multitude of columns spaced at regular, close intervals.


I Ching (=Yi Jing) (Chinese: "book of changes")
Confucian: One of the Five Classics, it is a collection of texts on divination based on a set of 64 hexagrams made by various combinations of broken and unbroken lines reflecting the relationship between the two basic forces in nature and human society (yin, yang). Each hexagram is determined by casting 49 yarrow stalks, and each has a short, cryptic interpretation. These have subsequently been expanded in the appendices, which are attributed to Confucius, but which date from the Former Han dynasty.

Christian (Eastern Orthodox): A sacred image (usually of Jesus, Mary or one of the Saints) painted on wood, which, because it is regarded as partaking of the reality which it represents, is considered worthy of veneration in itself. Icons are mounted on the iconostasis of an Orthodox church, on a separate stand in the nave of the church where believers on entry can kiss it in veneration, or in the icon corner of an Orthodox home.

iconostasis (Greek)
Christian (Eastern Orthodox): The dividing wall between nave and sanctuary in Orthodox churches, usually with a central and two side entrances and panels for icons. The main icons depict Christ as Savior, Mary as Mother of God, the Last Supper, the four Evangelists, archangels and saints.

iglesia (Spanish: "church")

Muslim (Shi'ite): Building used for the performance of religious activities.


    1. A member in the wall, usually formed of a projecting bracket-like molding, on which the end of an arch rests.
    2. The projecting stone from which an arch springs.

A shape chiselled out in a stone slab (usually) to hold an effigy, often of brass.

Decoration which crosses under and over corresponding architectural elements.

intrados (=soffit)
The inner curve or underside of an arch.

One of the Classical orders of architecture, typified by capitals decorated with a spiral motif.

iwan (Arabic)
A vaulted hall or room usually enclosed on three sides with the fourth opening into a courtyard.


A large vessel holding drinking water at public places, including sanctuary complexes, in India.


    1. Muslim (esp. Gulf States): A button-through, neck-to-ankle coat worn by women.
    2. Muslim (esp. Gulf States): A loose-fitting robe worn by men.

The straight sides of a doorway, archway or window; the sides of an opening upon which the lintel rests.

jami' (Arabic)
Muslim: The major mosque in a city, the one used for Friday midday prayers.

jazira (=Al Jazira, =jazeerah; Arabic: "island", "peninsula")

    1. Common usage: The name of an Arabic-language television service.
    2. Common usage: The Arabian Peninsula.
    3. Common usage: The land in northern Iraq and Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
    4. Common usage: A province in modern Syria.

JerkinheadA type of roofline popular in medieval architecture where the end of a roof is formed into a shape intermediate between a gable and a hip. The gable rises about halfway to the ridge, resulting in a truncated shape, the roof being inclined backward from this level. (for more, click here)

In Indian subcontinent architecture: carved window.

jinja (Japanese)
Shinto: A shrine. Taisha jingu-ji are used to describe especially important shrines. The typical shrine consists of several buildings. The largest is usually the haiden. Behind it, and not entered by the public, is the smaller and higher honden, in which the kami resides.

The beam supporting a floor; horizontal timbers in a building, laid parallel to each other with their upper edges rebated to receive the boards of a floor. The underside either forms the ceiling of the room below or has ceiling lathe nailed to it.

jubé (French)
Christian: The French name for rood screen.

jingu-ji (=jungu, =gingan-ji, =jingo-ji, =jinko-ji, =jingu-in; Japanese, "divine palace")
Shinto/Buddhist: An especially important shrine (see also jinja).


Ka'ba (=kabbah, Arabic)
Muslim: Legend says the Ka'ba was built by Abraham.
Muslim: Name of the sacred cube-shaped building in Mecca containing a sacred black meteorite. Muslims pray toward the Ka'ba, which serves as a unifying force.

kaccha (Punjabi)
Sikh: Short pants, one of the five "k's" which are required of the Khalsa.

Muslim (Arab, esp. Palestinian): A checked headdress (either black/white or red/white) commonly worn by men nd considered a nationalist symbol by Palestinians.

kagura-den (Japanese)
Shinto: A building for the performance of kagura.

kalam (Arabic: "debate")
Muslim: Discussion of scholastic theology.

kami (Japanese)
Shinto: Deity, spirit of nature.

kamidana (=kami-dana; Japanese:"god-shelf")
Shinto: Household altar. The kamidana usually houses an o-fuda, brought from a major shrine in the region, and prayers and food are offered each morning and evening.

kanga (Punjabi)
Sikh: A comb; one of the five "k's" which are required of the Khalsa.

Buddhist (Tibetan): The canonical collection of the teachings of Buddha, numbering 108 volumes and arranged and edited by the historian Buton (1290-1364).

kara (Punjabi)
Sikh: A steel bracelet; one of the five "k's" which are required of the Khalsa.

karah prasad (Punjabi)
Sikh: The sacramental food distributed in gurdwaras and at the conclusion of important rituals. The food (prasad) which should be prepared in a large iron pan (karah), comprises equal parts of coarsely refined wheat flour (semolina), sugar and ghee. When distributed, it must be offered to all, regardless of caste, creed or status.

Muslim (Shi'ite): sacred site [incomplete]

Jewish: Vegetables (usually celery tops, parsley or onion) dipped in salt water during a Passover Seder symbolize the tears of slavery.

Buddhist (Tibetan): A ceremonial scarf presented to important people.

katsuogi (Japanese)
Ridge billets which restrain the ridge boards of a roof and help anchor the traditional roof thatch of miscanthus grass.

kesh (Punjabi)
Sikh: Uncut hair, including body hair; one of the five "k's" which are required of the Khalsa.

Christian: In sacred depictions, keys indicate that the man portrayed is St. Peter.


    1. Architecture: The central locking stone at the apex (top) of an arch or rib; sometimes carved.
    2. Archaic: An engraved stone containing mystical secrets; =clef de voûte.

khat (Nepalese)
Hindu: An enclosed wooden shrine, similar in appearance to the portable shrines carried during processions.

khata Hindu/Buddhist: Offering scarf.

king post
Vertical roof beam joining the tie beam to the ridge above.


    1. A light, open pavilion usually supported by pillars.
    2. A tall, round structure in an urban area used for the posting of bills and other advertising material.

kirpan (Punjabi)
Sikh: A dagger, one of the five "k's" which are required of the Khalsa.

kittel (Hebrew)
Jewish: A white gown worn by the rabbi, cantor, and other people who help conduct the service in the synagogue for Yom Kippur.

Kojiki (Japanese: "Chronicles of Ancient Events")
Shinto: The first of the two major scriptures (the second is the Nihonskoki).

kora Hindu/Buddhist: Ritual circuit (clockwise for Buddhists and counter-clockwise for Bonpos
Koran (= Qur'an) (Arabic)
Muslim: Old-style English transliteration of the Arabic word denoting the book of Muslim holy scriptures; see Qur'an.

Zorastrian: The sacred belt worn by male believers.

kuttab (pl. katatib; Arabic)
Muslim: An Islamic primary school where Qur'an recitation and the Arabic alphabet are taught.


lamb (animal)
Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): In sacred depiction, a lamb indicates the female depicted is St. Agnes.
Jewish: Roasted lamb shank, served at a Passover Seder, symbolizes the sacrificial Passover lamb.

Narrow, sharp-pointed arch or window common in early Gothic-style buildings with radii much larger than the span.

langar (Punjabi)
Sikh: A communal kitchen in or adjacent to a gurdwara.


    1. Architectural element atop a cupola, usually with a light inside.
    2. Turret with windows, often topping a dome.
    3. A small circular or polygonal turret with windows all around, crowning a roof or dome.
    4. A lamp suspended from a ceiling or other high place.
    5. A portable lamp.

Lao Tzu
Taoist: One of the statues found on altars representing Lao Tzu.

Latin cross

    1. Christian: A cross with three short arms and one long arm.
    2. Christian: As a church design, it developed from the plan of the Roman basilican church; accommodates lateral transepts and became the characteristic plan of the Christian church.

A structure consisting of three walls and a pitched roof built against the side of an existing building to create additional room or storage.


    1. Common usage: A holder for the written material used by a standing speaker.
    2. Christian: The Bible is read from this stand, which is usually on the opposite side of the chancel from the pulpit. Reader stands behind lectern on which reading material is placed for easy viewing.

Hindu/Buddhist: Chapel.

Li Ching (=Classic of Rites; Chinese)
Confucian: One of the Five Classics included in the canon, it is a collection of three books on the Li (rights of propriety): Chou Li (Rites of Chou), I Li (Ceremonies and Rites), and Li Chi (Record of Rites).

Openings between the mullions of a window.

lily (flower)
Christian: A saint portrayed in a sacred depiction holding a lily is considered to be a virgin.


Hindu: An upright, narrow stone, symbolizing the male sexual aspect; usually placed with a yoni.


    1. Horizontal beam, made of wood or stone, spanning the top of an opening (usually a window or doorway).
    2. An upper horizontal element spanning a doorway or window, supported at each end by the upright jambs.

litham (Arabic)
Muslim (African): A mouth veil worn by some Saharan people.

liturgical art

    1. Christian: Art that makes visible the unseen presence of God.
    2. Christian: Art before which prayers are said.


    1. A gallery open on one or more sides, sometimes pillared or with a colonnade or arcade.
    2. A separate structure, usually in a garden.

lotus bandlotus
Architectural design motif based on lotus flower (a water lily).

Lotus Sutra
Buddhist (Mayayana): An important sutra, compiled in phases up to about 100 CE. It teaches that the forms taken by Buddhist doctrine are provisional only and are provided in accordance with the abilities of its recipients.

louver (=louvre)
Slat that can be angled to admit air, while preventing rain or direct sunlight from entering the building.

low side window
Christian: A window usually on the south side of the chancel, lower than the others, possibly intended for communication between persons outside the chancel and the priest within; perhaps also for the sanctus bell to be heard outside the church.

A diamond shape.

A small opening in a spire.

Lu Dong Bin
Taoist: One of the Eight Immortals found on A HREF="#altar">altars: the patron of martial artists and a major spirit worshiped by Long-Men sect Taoists.

Jewish: Plant used in the celebration of Sukkot. It is the tall, skinny branch (actually large leaf) of a palm tree. It is generally green with a point at one end. The circumference is basically triangular. It has a spine that runs up the back and a yellowish base.

Lun Yu (=Analects)
Confucian: One of the Four Books which are part of the Confucian Canon.

A semicircular opening; or, any flat, semicircular surface.

lych gate
Christian (especially English, Anglican or Episcopal): A covered wooden gateway with open sides at the entrance of a churchyard, providing a resting place for a coffin (the word lych is Saxon for corpse). Part of the burial service is sometimes read there.


A hole in the ceiling of a large gateway through which objects such as stones could be dropped as weapons.

madrasa (=medrese; pl. madaris; Arabic)

    1. Muslim: An institution of higher learning in traditional Islamic education.
    2. Muslim: Any secondary school teaching the Islamic sciences.
    3. Muslim (Sunni): A school for teaching shari'a.

Muslim (esp. Iran): A cowl-like headcovering worn by women.

Hindu: The "Great Epic of the Bharatas," containing 90,000 stanzas, is a compilation of ancient Indian epic material made probably between the 2nd Century BCE and the end of the 1st Century CE. It includes the Bhagavadgita.

Hindu/Buddhist: Large monastery.

makarantan allo (Hausa)
Muslim(African): Equivalent to kuttab.

makarantan ilmi (Hausa)
Muslim (African): Equivalent to madrasa.

maktab (Arabic)
Muslim: A school for the teaching of the Qur'an at the primary level of education, often part of or adjacent to a mosque.

(see also rosary)
Hindu: A prayer string with 108 beads.

A rough concrete made of rubble.

mandala (Sanskrit)

    1. In Eastern religious traditions: A marked-out area or a raised earthen platform, representing the cosmos in miniature and used as a place of purification, initiation and meditation.
    2. Buddhist (Tibetan): A sacred diagram envisioned as an aid to meditation that is often created in colored sand for a specific purpose, and then destroyed.
    3. Buddhist/Hindu: A complex design intended to focus attention during meditation.
    4. A schematized representation of the cosmos, chiefly characterized by a concentric organization of geometric shapes, each of which contains an image of a deity or an attribute of a deity.
    5. A symbol representing the effort to reunify the self.

Hindu/Buddhist: A roofless Tantric shrine made of brick or wood.

Hindu: A hallway in a temple.

mandir ("abiding place", "dwelling")
Hindu: The word commonly used to denote a temple.

Buddhist (Tibetan): A prayer inscribed in rock in high mountain areas.

A stylistic trend of 16th-century Italian architecture, that departed from Classical conventions of orders and proportion to produce an exaggerated effect by subverting and manipulating architectural forms.

maqsurah (=maqsura, Arabic)

    1. Muslim: A screen or grille of wood in a mosque to protect and separate the imam from the crowd.
    2. Muslim: An enclosed portion of a mosque where a ruler or other dignitary could pray in seclusion from the rest of the congregation.
    3. Muslim (Spanish/Moorish): An elevated platform, usually with grilles.


    1. A shrine or church erected on the site of a martyrdom.
    2. A martyr’s tomb.
    3. A site referring to an event in Christ's life or Passion.

mashhad (Arabic)

    1. Muslim: A shrine.
    2. Muslim: Tomb of a shahid.

masjid (plural: masajid) (Arabic; often transliterated as mosque)
Muslim: Literally, a place of prostration or prayer, hence the place where Muslims perform the five daily prayers and the congregational prayer on Fridays.

masjid al-jami (Arabic: "congregational mosque")
Muslim: The place where congregational prayer is held on Fridays, in which the solidarity of believers is expressed in communal prayer; sometimes called a Friday Mosque.

Usually, building work in stone; sometimes the term includes work in brick or concrete.

Hindu: A priest’s house.

Muslim: The horizon, where the sun or moon rises.

Jewish: Served during a Passover Seder, symbolizes the bread of affliction of the Israelite slaves in Egypt. Usually served in a special three-tiered holder.

A magnificent and stately tomb. The term derives from the tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus (located near the Mediterranean coast of contemporary Turkey), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Medina (=Madina, Arabic: "city")
Place name: The western Arabian oasis community (known as Yathrib in pre-Islamic times) to which Muhammad moved his new politico-religious community in 622 CE.

Medina al-Rasul (Arabic: "city of the prophet")
Full name of Medina, a city on the Arabian peninsula.

meditation beads (Vietnamese: trang hat)
(see also rosary)
Buddhist: A symbol of unity and harmony among all beings. The strand is composed of beads on a string, each representing an individual. However, each bead is not isolated and independent, but connected with all the others.

mehean (Armenian; "temple")

Meng Tzu (=Mencius)
Confucian: One of the Four Books that are included in the Confucian Canon.

menorah (plural: menorot; Hebrew: "candelabrum")

    1. Jewish: A candelabrum with seven branches used in ritual.
    2. Jewish: The seven-branched oil lamp used in the Tabernacle and temple.
    3. Jewish: The Hanukkah menorah has eight branches plus a special shammes candle that is used to kindle the others one by one.

The section of a Classical entablature between triglyphs that is left plain or with carved decoration.

Muslim (Spanish/Moorish): A mosque, but especially La Mezquita de Còrdoba, Spain.

mezuzah (Hebrew: "doorpost")
Jewish: Inside is a parchment roll on which the first two paragraphs of the shema are handwritten. A mezuzah is attached to every doorpost in the traditional Jewish home, usually inside a decorated case. It is customary for Orthodox Jews to kiss the mezuzah on entering or leaving a house.

    1. Jewish: A box hung on the doorpost of a home, containing scriptural verses
    2. Jewish: A charm worn around the neck, containing scriptural verses.

mihrab (Arabic)

    1. Muslim: The apsidal niche in one interior wall of a mosque indicating the direction of Mecca, towards which the worshipper must face while performing prayer. It first appeared in mosques in the early 8th century.
    2. Muslim: A recess, alcove or any indication of the direction of Mecca.

minaret (=minara, =mi'dhara; Arabic)
Muslim: The tall, usually slender, tower of a mosque from which Muslims hear the call to prayer five times a day either from a mu'adhdhin or (increasingly) a recording of a mu'adhdhin's call played over a loudspeaker. Traditional Arabian-style minarets have one or more projecting balconies on which the mu'adhdhin stands to call the people to prayer.

minbar (Arabic)

    1. Muslim: The high pulpit in a mosque.
    2. Muslim: The elevated structure of steps in a mosque from which the khutba is given during Friday prayers.
    3. Muslim (Shi'ite): The staired platform from which the zakir delivers his majlis.


    1. Christian: Originally, the name for any monastic establishment or its church, whether a monastery proper or a house of secular canons.
    2. Popular usage: "Minster" often forms part of the proper names of (especially) Presbyterian congregations.

miqvah (=miqveh, =mikveh) (Hebrew: "collection of water")
Jewish: A pool or "gathering" of natural or clear water in or near a synagogue used for ritutal purification, immersion in which renders an individual ritually clean. A miqvah is used by women to prepare to resume sexual relations with their husbands following the completion of their menstrual cycles, and by men to prepare for Sabbaths and holy days.

mirador (=belvedere)

misericord (or, miserere)
Christian: A bracket on the underside of the seat of a hinged choir stall which, when turned up, serves as a support for the occupant while standing during a long service.


Christian (Roman Catholic): A liturgical book used since the Middle Ages, containing the texts and instructions necessary for the celebration of the Mass.

miter (=mitre)
miterChristian (esp. Roman Catholic): A ceremonial hat; usually refers to hat worn by a bishop.

miter and stick
Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): A man portrayed in a sacred depiction with a miter and stick was a bishop.

miya (Japanese)
Shinto: One of several terms for a shrine.

An ornamental bracket under the corona of a cornice.

mokugyo (Japanese)
Buddhist (East Asian): A wooden fish-shaped drum used in temples.

moldings (=mouldings)
Decorative profile or contours given to a projecting part, such as a ceiling cornice.

A massive wall projecting as a breakwater.


    1. Buddhist: Fixed abode of a community of monks or nuns.
    2. Christian: Fixed abode of a community of (normally, at least 12) monks, canons regular or nuns. Normally it consists of a church, chapter-house, cloisters, refectory, cells or common dormitory, the superior's apartments, library and work-rooms, guest quarters, and parlor for visitors. A Roman Catholic monastery is generally an abbey or a priory.

A single stone, usually in the form of a monument or column.

Christian (especially Roman Catholic): A holder for the Host in which the latter can be seen and venerated.

Material made usually from cement, sand and lime. It is used as a bond between bricks and stone.

Decorative design made up of small squares of colored glass, stone, marble or tile. NOTE: if capitalized, can also be an adjective referring to Moses of the Old Testament.

mosque (from the Arabic: masjid, "a place of prostration or prayer")
Muslim: The building in which the five daily prayers and the congregational prayer on Fridays take place; in this latter sense, the edifice is also called a masjid al-jami, congregational mosque, in which the solidarity of believers is expressed in communal prayer.


    1. The decorative internal support within large Gothic windows.
    2. A narrow upright stone pier used to divide the panels of glass in a window.
    3. Fixed vertical members dividing a window.

Christian: A church or other religious edifice built by Christians living under Muslim rule.

Muslim/Christian (Spanish/Moorish): The architectural style develped by Muslims working for Christians.

Hindu: The sacred thread worn by brahman and chhetri males from the time of puberty.

muqarnas (Arabic)

    1. Muslim: Quintessential form of Islamic decoration and construction using an elaborately molded corbel to created the characteristic honeycomb or stalactitle form of arch-and-vaulted structures.
    2. Muslim (Spanish/Moorish): The hanging masonry effect resulting from the multiple use of suport elements.

Jewish: Plant used in the celebration of Sukkot.


Hindu: Food offered to a deity.

Buddhist: A type of bahal containing a large courtyard surrounded by residences, also including a shrine.

naos (= cella)

    1. The sanctuary or principal room of a temple, containing the statue of a deity.
    2. Principal chamber of a Greek temple.
    3. Christian (Eastern): Core of a Byzantine Church.


    1. Christian: An arcaded transverse porch or vestibule forming the entrance space of a basilica-style church.
    2. Christian: A covered antechamber at the main entrance of a church.
    3. Common usage: A long, usually arcaded, porch forming an entrance into a public building.
    4. Christian: The forehall of a church.

nath (“place”)

Christian: The main or central area of a church where the congregation usually stands (or sits). Generally, the longitudinal western arm of a Christian church, but more specifically the middle section of the western arm, with aisles on either side. Derived from the Latin navis, meaning ship, symbolizing a contained vessel ferrying souls from damnation to redemption.

Muslim (Shi'ite): Religious offering.

necropolis (Greek: "city of the dead")
A cemetery in which provision is made for the continued welfare of the dead interred therein on the assumption of their continued existence.

Ner Tamid (Hebrew: "perpetual light")
Jewish: A light (now more often electric than an oil lamp) that burns perpetually in synagogues as a symbolic reminder of the temple menorah.

New American Testament
Civil Religion: The American scripture: Declaration of Independence, Constitution (esp. the Preamble) and the Gettysburg Address.

New Testament

    1. Christian: The collection of works in Greek that eventually came to be agreed upon as normative or "canonical" for the Christian Church in addition to the Bible inherited from Judaism. It consists of the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the epistles (letters) of various disciples and the Book of Revelation. The New Testament is understood as the scriptural record of the new covenant, which God has made with his people, now taken to include the whole of mankind.
    2. Christian: The second section of the Bible.
    3. Christian (Roman Catholic): The New Testament consists of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts of the Apostles, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Phlemon, Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Apocalypse.
    4. Christian (Roman Catholic): The texts compiled by Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria in 367 CE and ratified by the Church Council of Hippo in 393 and by the Council of Carthage in 397.
    5. Christian (Protestant): The New Testament consists of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts of the Apostles, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Revelation.


    1. A recess in a wall, often specifically designed to accommodate a statue
    2. Jewish: This recess is intended to direct the worshipper's focus toward Jerusalem.
    3. Muslim: A recess called mihrab indicating the direction (qibla
    4. ) of Mecca, towards which the Muslim worshipper must face while performing prayer.

Nihonskoki (or, Nihongi) (Japanese: "Chronicles of Japan")
Shinto: The second of two major scriptures, this classical work was compiled in Chinese at the Imperial Japanese court in 720 C.E.. (The first is the

Muslim: A veil worn by women that completely covers the face.

nisan sahib (or, nishan) (Punjabi)
Sikh: A saffron or blue flag, depicting the Sikh emblem (a two-edged sword encircled by two curved swords), commonly kept in a gurdwara.

Muslim (Shi'ite): An artifact symbolic of the ahl al-bayt.

Muslim: The religious texts.


oak tree

    1. Christian (Roman Catholic: Basque): Refers to a specific oak tree in Guernica under which the Juntas Generals (a Basque assembly) met, at least since the 15th Century.
    2. Christian (Roman Catholic: French): Refers to xxx.
    3. Common usage: Symbol of permanence, steadfastness.


    1. Common usage: A round window.
    2. Classical usage: The central, round window (in Roman times, unglazed) at the apex of a dome.

o-fuda (Japanese)
Shinto/Buddhist: A wooden or paper amulet on which is written the name of a deity. The o-fuda is taken home from the shrine or temple, placed on the kamidana) and worshipped to obtain divine aid.

A double-curved line made up of a convex and a concave part.

oklad (Russian)
Christian (Eastern): An ornamented and often bejeweled metal cover originally made to protect especially treasured icons, later made together with the icon, revealing only the face and hands of the sacred figures. The oklad is an extension of the riaa, which leaves the whole body visible and which was itself an extension of the basma, an ornamental metal covering for the frame only.

Old Testament
Christian: The term used to describe the Hebrew Bible from a Christian standpoint.

    1. Christian (Roman Catholic): The Old Testament consists of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Josue, Judges, Ruth, 1-4 Kings, 1-2 Paralipompenon, 1-2 Esdras, Tobias, Judith, Esthe, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, Lamentations, Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggeus, Zacharias, Malachias, 1-2 Machabees.
    2. Christian (Protestant): The Old Testament consists of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

o-mamori (Japanese)
Shinto/Buddhist: A small amulet obtained from Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples and worn on the body for protection.

onion dome
A convex roof with a circular or polygonal base and an ogee-shaped section. Used in both Christian (especially Eastern Orthodox) and Islamic architecture.


    1. Christian: A small private chapel, either in a church or in a house.
    2. Popular usage (esp. England): A church-like space where concerts are held.

The styles of Classical architecture, defined by the designs of their columns and entablatures. The three Greek orders are >Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. The Romans added Tuscan and Composite.

British. 1550. Book providing a standard form of the church service.

A window projecting from the flat face of a wall, on an upper story, and usually curved.


    1. The siting of a building in relation to the points of a compass.
    2. Christian: Churches are often built with the altar at the east and the main entrance at the west of the structure, but there are many exceptions (including St. Peter's in Rome, which is oriented west-east).


    1. A depository for the bones of the dead.
    2. Jewish: A common secondary burial site used by ancient Jews.


padma (“lotus flower”)

Buddhist: A temple in the form of a tower, usually polygonal, with elaborately ornamented roofs projecting from each of its many stories.

Common usage (usually, Christian): A parchment book that has been overwritten with a second text (a method of medieval recycling).

An architectural style favored in England during the 18th Century, derived from the architecture and publications of Andrea Palladio (1508-80). It spread to America in the mid-18th Century and beame an accepted style for grand rasidences and civic buildings.

palm (frond or leaf of a palm tree)
Christian: A saint depicted in a sacred representation holding a palm is considered to be a martyr to the faith.

A fan-shaped ornament composed of narrow divisions like a palm leaf.

Muslim (Shi'ite): A replica of the cradle of the slain infant 'Ali Asghar.

Panagia (Greek: "all-holy")

    1. Christian: Mary as the Mother of God.
    2. Christian (Eastern Orthodox): A breastplate icon worn by a bishop on feast-days.

Muslim (Shi'ite): Five-fingered hand representing the Five Holy Ones of Shi'a Islam.

    1. The part of a wall above the gutter, which is sometimes decorated with battlements or other designs.
    2. A low wall placed to protect any spot where there is a sudden drop, for example at the edge of a bridge, quay or house-top.

Common usage: Scraped and dried animal skins used as a writing surface.

Christian: A screen enclosing a chapel or shrine and separating it from the main body of the church so as to exclude non-worshippers.

parekklesion (Greek)
Christian (Eastern) A chapel, either free-standing or attached.

parvis (or, parvise)
Christian (Western):

    1. The open space in front of and around cathedrals or churches.
    2. A room over the porch of a church.

Christian (Eastern): A room serving as a diaconikon; as a rule, flanking the apse of the church.

Christian: A slightly concave plate used to hold the
Host for the Eucharist.

A small, flat, circular or oval ornament in Classical> architecture, often decorated with acanthus leaves or rose petals.

path (as an architectural concept)
Representing the initiation, journey, and time of transformation, the path symbolizes psychological, not physical, triumph. Along the way, obscure resistances are overcome and long-lost powers are revived. The three basic shapes of paths are linear (leading step by step to the resolution of a conflict), radial (traveling inward to a centered spot or outward to enrich the world) and spiral (a stream of consciousness that expands to new dimensions while referring to the source of its existence). The path points the way to the goal, to the luminous shore of truth, consciousness, and bliss. (adapted from The Temple in the House)

paubha (Nepalese)
Hindu: Traditional Newari painting, usually religious in motif.


    1. An ornamental building placed amid a landscaped setting.
    2. Can also be an independently expressed part of a larger building, wing or façade.

In Classical architecture, the base supporting a column or colonnade; also, more loosely, the base for a statue or any superstructure.

In Classical architecture, a triangular section of wall above the entablature and below the gabled roof, that can be, instead, semicircular in shape.

Carved triangular surface formed to support a circular dome over a square structure. More specifically, a concave spandrel leading from the angle of two walls to the base of a circular dome. It is one of the means by which a circular dome is supported over a square or polygonal compartment.

Jewish/Christian: The first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Also called the "Law".

peripteros (Greek)
A temple with a single range of columns around it.

A continuous range of columns surrounding the main body of a building, or the colonnade around the inside of a court or room; the term is rarely used for an external colonnade.


    1. Christian: A fixed wooden seat in a church, usually a wooden bench with back and sides.
    2. Christian: A boxed pew is one with a high wooden enclosure all around and a small door typical of Georgian style.

piano nobile (Italian)
The main living floor of a house raised above ground level, usually on pilotis.


    1. The solid masonry support (pillar or column) that supports an arch or bridge.
    2. The structural support in a building, usually of solid masonry, but larger and less decorative than a column.
    3. Any solid mass of masonry between openings.
    4. A squat medieval and Romanesque forms of columns, often changing in section from square to circular or polygonal.
    5. A compound pier (or clustered pier) is a pier comprising a number of shafts, common in Gothic architecture.

A shallow pier or rectangular column projecting only slightly from a wall; an adaptation of any Classical order, rectangular in section and applied to or emerging from a wall, usually by one sixth of its breadth.

A free-standing upright member, which, unlike a column, need not be cylindrical or conform with any of the architectural orders.

A shaft of wood or concrete, which is driven into the ground as part of the foundations of the building.

piloti (Italian)
Slender post or stilt raising a building off the ground, thereby leaving the ground floor open.

A small turret-like termination crowning spires, buttresses, the angles of parapets, etc., usually of steep pyramidal or conical shape and ornamented.

Christian: A stone vessel or basin containing water, usually set in or against a wall to the south of the altar for cleaning communion utensils; usually provided with a drain.

Hindu/Buddhist: An open shrine dedicated to a Tantric Goddess.

The projecting base of a wall; or, the lowest part of a column base.

pointed arch (or, equilateral arch)
An arch produced by two curves, each with a radius equal to the span and meeting in a point at the top.

polyhedral dome
A convex roof on a polygonal base whose sides meet at the top of the dome.

pondok pesantren (Indonesian)
Muslim (Indonesian): An Islamic boarding school with a traditional curriculum based on the Qur'an.

The covered entrance to a building; called a portico if columned and pedimented like a temple front.


    1. Any door or gate, often elaborately decorated.
    2. A small door set within a larger door or gate.


    1. Entrance porch; usually colonnaded with a roof supported on one side by decorative columns.
    2. A roofed space, open or partly enclosed, forming the entrance and centerpiece of the façade of a temple, house or church, often with detached or attached columns and a pediment.

Christian: A small gateway, sometimes concealed, at the back of a monastery.

Christian: The part of the church which lies east of the choir and where the high altar is placed. generally the area to the east of the crossing of a church, reserved for the clergy, and containing the main altar and sanctuary.

presider’s chair

    1. Christian: An often ornate seat in a church for the primary clergyperson, sometimes with a canopy or other throne-like detailing.
    2. Christian (Episcopalian): A seat in a church reserved only for the bishop that remains unoccupied in his/her absence.

Jewish: Part of the Hebrew Bible consisting of the books of: Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeemiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion


    1. Christian: Clergy adress the congregation from a raised, separate partial enclosure of wood or stone in a church. It is often elaborately carved and sometimes includes an acoustic canopy above called a sounding board or tester.
    2. Christian: The person who is giving the sermon stands in the pulpit, sometimes elevated above the congregation as much as 15 feet (in Colonial churches) when height was necessary so clergy could be seen/heard in the back of the church.

In Christian architecture: Stone screen in a major church to shut off the choir from the nave. It could also be used as a backing for the return choir stalls.

A heavy slab of timber, roughly dressed, used as a floorboard.

The gateway structure to an Egyptian-style temple, comprising massive rectilinear towers with inclining walls.


    1. Christian (Roman Catholic): A small box used for carrying the Host to the sick. Unlike a monstrance, a pyx is not intended for displaying the Host, simply for transporting it.
    2. Christian: A box or container for holding the wafers used during Mass.



qibla (=kibla, =quibla) (Arabic)

    1. Muslim: The wall of any mosque facing Mecca which has a mihrab.
    2. Common usage (Muslim): The direction of prayer (i.e., toward Mecca).

Four-sided enclosure or courtyard surrounded by buildings on all sides.

See foil.

The dressed stones at the corners of buildings, usually laid so that their faces are alternately large and small; often the largest stones in a wall.

Qur'an (=Koran; Arabic: "recitation")
Muslim: Islamic scripture; the sacred book, the uncreated word of God, hence pre-existent to the world and to man, whose archetype is laid up in heaven. The scripture is the corpus of revelations granted by Allah to His Messenger Muhammad through the archangel Gabriel, but the message is God's alone without any human interference. (
Qur'an is preferred to the alternate transliteration, Koran.)

Hindu: [incomplete].

Hindu: The epic story of Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, and his devout and noble wife, Sita; a Sanskrit composition in 24,000 stanzas attributed to the ancient Indian sage and poet Valmiki.

Hindu/Buddhist: "self manifesting" -- refers to sacred objects (such as handprints, footprints, statues, stones etc.) that originated miraculously.

Architectural movement in Europe seeking to adopt rationalized and reasoned solutions to design problems, in opposition to historicist and formulaic design traditions. Usually realized throug a conscious expression of structural system and constructional materials. The movement emerged through the 18th century architecture of the French Enlightenment. Developed throught the 20th century in the teaching of the TGerman Bauhaus; it became a central principle of Modernism.

A continuous rectangular notch or groove cut on an edge, so that a plank, door, etc., may be fitted into it.


    1. Common usage (Asian): Color worn by a bride on her wedding day.
    2. Taoist: Color of happiness.


    1. Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): A fragment (usually bone, tooth, dried blood) from the body of a saint.
    2. Christian: Any object associated with a saint. ("Relics are not just body parts. Saints also had possessions. They wore clothes and jewelry. They touched things. Eventually, the Catholic Church put in place a system for classifying relics: A first-class relic was a body part of a saint; a second-class relic was a saint's possession; a third-class relic was an object that had touched a first-class relic; and a fourth-class relic—the least valuable but the easiest to produce—was an object that had touched a second-class relic.")
    3. Buddhist: A fragment (usually bone, tooth, dried blood) from the body of the Buddha or another holy person.

relieving arch (=discharging arch)
An arch of rough construction placed in a wall, above an opening, to relieve it of much of the superincumbent weight.

Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): A container for the preservation or display of a relic.

The period during which the Classical style of architecture was reintroduced in Europe, the 15th and 16th centuries in most places.

Christian: A wall or screen, usually of carved wood or stone, set behind an altar.


    1. Christian: A shelf or ledge above the back of an altar.
    2. Christian: An altar-piece either painted or carved, attached to the back of an altar.

That part of a jamb which lies between the glass or door and the outer wall surface.

riaa (Russian)
Christian (Eastern Orthodox): An ornamented and often bejeweled metal cover for an icon, which leaves the whole body visible. (see also oklad)

See: akshatha

    1. The stone arch that supports and strengthens the vault.
    2. A projecting molded band applied to a ceiling, most commonly used to emphasize and to decorate the structure of vaults.

rib vault
A groin vault reinforced by ribs, one in which the intersections of the surfaces are marked by projecting bands of stone that form arches.

rikhi doro
Hindu: A golden thread which
Shiva devotees tie around their wrists to ward off evil and disease.

Romanesque architecture
The architectural style that developed between the end of the Roman Empire and around 1000 CE is characterized by round arches, simple vaults, and, sometimes, Corinthian capitals; churches were often build to the Romans' basilica design with the addition of facades with rows of arches and frontages with twin towers. (This style preceded Gothic.) In Midwestern vernacular church architecture, look for square floor plan, round arch and vault, and windows with round tops.

rood (Saxon: "cross" or "crucifix")
Christian: In Saxon churches the cross or crucifix was set up at the east end of the nave, flanked by figures of the Virgin and St. John. It was usually wooden and fixed to a special beam in the chancel arch above the
rood loft. Sometimes the rood is painted on the wall above the chancel arch.

rood loft
Christian: A gallery built above the rood screen, often to carry the rood or other images and candles; approached by stairs either of wood or built in the wall.

rood screen
Christian: A screen below the rood, set across the east end of the nave and shutting off the

see also shayla
Muslim (Shi'ite, esp. Iran): A woman's headscarf.

A set of pebbles, a string of knots in a cord or a string of beads used for counting prayers.

    1. Christian (Roman Catholic): A Roman Catholic rosary usually has 55 or, less commonly, 165 beads, and may be used for counting the number of times the Ave Maria is to be said while meditating on events in the life of Christ.
    2. Buddhist: Buddhist rosaries vary considerably but may also be used for counting simple devotional phrases; when 108 beads are counted they refer to the 108 human passions referred to in Buddhist teaching.

Design motif based on flower of the same name.

A circular building or round room, often domed and surrounded by a colonnade.

Muslim (Shi'ite): Replicas of the tombs of the ahl al-bayt displayed in ziyarat khannahs.

rumal (Punjabi)
Sikh: The elegant cloth wrapped around the Guru Granth Sahib when it is closed.


Muslim (Shi'ite): Stands set up for the distribution of water as a pious action during Muharram.

Christian: The consecrated elements of the
(see also Sacraments in part two of this glossary)

Christian: A room near the altar in which liturgical vessels and vestments are kept and prepared. The sacristy may also function as a vestry, where the vestments are donned, but sometimes there is an additional vestry, especially for servers and choir members It is an area outside public area of the chancel, usually with countertops and running water for preparation of communion items before the service begins; an area where clergy wait or prepare for the worship service. (=diaconikon in Greek Orthodox churches)

Common usage: Evil spirits detest salt.
Common usage (subsidiary): Salt protects against the evil eye.
Jewish: A symbol of the eternal nature of God's covenant with the Jews.
Jewish (ritual): Dipping the Sabbath bread (food) in salt (which preserves it) symbolizes the keeping of the covenant between God and the Jews.
Jewish: Traditional to bring gift of bread and salt to a new house.
Jewish: Karpas dipped in salt water, a symbol of tears [incomplete].
Muslim: Salt used to seal a bargain. Christian (Roman Catholic): Sal Sapientia, Salt of Wisdom.
Voodoo: Can bring a zombie back to life with salt.

Christian: X-shaped cross. St. Andrew was martyred on a saltire.

salwar kameez (=shalwar kameez)
Muslim (esp. south Asia): A calf-length tunic worn over pants by both men and women.


    1. sanctuary (as an architectural concept): The sanctuary balances and integrates the upward energy of a steeple or sky door (opening in ceiling). The portal signals the transition from the chaos of the outer world to the peace of the inner one; it marks the first step in the healing of the psyche. The central aisle passing through the middle of the sanctuary marks the passage to enlightenment, the process of healing. To the sides of the central aisle are places to sit in subdued light. Mind and body can become absorbed in silence and wholeness, pausing in the stillness before taking the next steps of the journey toward the altar. The altar signals the place of arrival and rebirth. (adapted from The Temple in the Home)
    2. Any holy or sacred space.
    3. Any specific location where the divine is present.
    4. Christian: From Byzantine architecture onwards, the area, usually at the east end of the church, containing the main altar.
    5. Christian: The area around the main altar of a church.

Hindu: The conch shell, one of the four (sacred) symbols held by Vishnu; it is widely used in temples and shrines during prayer.

saranghi (Nepalese)
A small, four-stringed viola shaped from a single piece of wood and played with a horsehair bow.

sash window
A window formed with sashes, i.e., sliding glazed frames running in vertical grooves.

satal (Nepalese)
Hindu: A house for pilgrims.

saucer dome
A convex roof, which has a circular base and a segmental (less than a semicircle) section.

saw (tool)
Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): In sacred depiction, a saw indicates that the man portrayed is St. Joseph.


    1. An ornament carved or molded in the form of a shell.
    2. Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): In sacred depiction, a scallop shell indicates that the man portrayed is St. James.

A partition or enclosure of iron, stone, or wood, often carved. (See, for example, iconostasis,
rood screen.)

Scripture (=Scriptures)
Holy writing; holy book, holy script; sacred written words.
Examples: Bible, Qur'an, xxxx.

An ornament in the form of a scroll of paper partly rolled, or a molding in such a form.

Christian: A trio of wooden seats in a sanctuary for the priest and his helpers.

Part of a circle smaller than a semicircle.

segmental arch
An arch that is a segment of a circle drawn from a center below the springing line.

Christian (Greek Orthodox): A long bar of wood struck with a mallet to summon worshippers to the church.

seo (Spanish: "cathedral")

Jewish/Christian: The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, begun at Alexandria, Egpyt, in the 3rd Century BCE for the benefit of the Greek-speaking Jewish community in that area. Since the 1st Century CE, the Septuagint has been the standard version of the Hebrew Bible for Greek-speaking Christians.


    1. The trunk of a column between the base and capital.
    2. The vertical, often fluted, portion of a column.
    3. The body of a column or Order between the base and the capital, often fluted.
    4. In medieval architecture, one of the narrow vertical parts which together form a pier or pillar, or window and door surrounds.

Hindu: A black ammonite fossil regarded as sacred by
Vishnu devotees.

shammash (=shammes) (Hebrew, or Yiddish)
Jewish: The ninth candle which is used to light the other candles on a Hanukkah menorah.

shastras (Sanskrit)

    1. Hindu: Scriptures.
    2. Buddhist (Mahayanan): Treatises that interpret and comment on the philosophical statements contained in the Sutra Pitaka.

see also roosarie
Muslim (Arab): A woman's headscarf.

Design motif based on shell, usually the scallop.

    1. Christian architecture: Often symbolically refers to St. James.
    2. shell carvingshell carving: [incomplete]

Muslim (Shi'ite): A long coat worn on formal occasions.

shide (Japanese)
Shinto: Zigzag strips of paper hung from a

Shih Ching (or, Classic of Odes)
Confucian: One of the
Five Classics included in the Confucian Canon, it is a collection of 300 poems and songs dating mainly from the early Chou dynasty (1027-402 BCE).

shikhara (Nepalese)
Hindu: A brick or stone temple of geometrical shape with a tall central spire.

Shikshapatri (Sanskrit)
Hindu (Gujarati):
Scripture: the Lord Swaminarayan’s written word; a code of conduct in 212 verses in Sanskrit. See Shikshapatri

shimenawa (Japanese)
Shinto: A sacred rope marking the presence of a God or the border of a sacred area. Zigzag strips of paper (
shide), are hung from the rope, which is made of twisted new straw.

shinden (Japanese) Shinto: A place where an ancestral deity is enshrined.

Wooden tiles for covering roofs and spires.

shoden (Japanese)
Covered porch.

shofar (Hebrew)

    1. Jewish: A ram's horn, or of any ritually pure animal except the cow, blown as a trumpet on the High Holidays and other important occasions, and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur.
    2. A hollowed out ram's horn, one of the earliest known musical instruments.

Shou Lao
Taoist: One of the statues found on altars representing Shou Lao, the god of longevity, easily recognized by his large cranium, medicinal gourd and “peach of immortality”. (See also
Shou Lao in second section of glossary.)


    1. Any sacred building or place.
    2. A structure containing a sacred object.

Shu Ching (or, Classic of History)
Confucian: One of the
Five Classics included in the Confucian Canon, it is a collection of documents, speeches, and counsels made by Chinese rulers and ministers purporting to date from the legendary rulers Yao and Shun to the early Chou dynasty (1000 BCE). Many of the supposedly older documents actually date from the Later Han dynasty (23-220 CE).

Siddur (Hebrew)
Jewish: Literally, the "order" of Hebrew prayers, the Siddur is the book with daily prayers for morning, afternoon and evening services, as well as additional prayers for sabbaths and Holy Days.


signaculum (Latin)

sikhara (Hindi?)

    1. Indian subcontinent: Tower.
    2. Hindu: The tower on a temple.

The lower horizontal part of a window frame.

sirdar (Nepalese)
Hindu: A votive mixture made of red dust combined with mustard oil.

Christian: A covered way or passage, especially in a cathedral or monastic church, leading east from the cloisters between transept and chapterhouse.

Buddhist (Zen): A formal hall for meditation, meals, and sleeping with an altar in the center.

The underside of any architectural element.

Christian: A raised pathway projecting from the bema to the ambo, especially in Early Christian and Byzantine-style churches.

Muslim (Shi'ite): A mascara-like eye decoration worn by men.

sotoba (Japanese)
Buddhist: Long wooded memorial tablets in cemeteries, notched in five sections at the top and bearing appropriate inscriptions.

The triangular space between the side of an arch, the horizontal drawn from the level of its apex, and the vertical of its springing; also used to describe the surface between two arches in an arcade, and the surface of a vault between adjacent ribs.

spire (=attice)
A tall pyramidal, polygonal, or conical structure rising from a tower, turret or roof (usually, of a church) and terminating in a point. Two common types are broach (octagonal rising directly from a tower) and needle (thin spire rising from the center of tower roof).

Materials reused from a ruined building.

Spring and Autumn Annals (=Ch'un Ch'iu)
Confucian: One of the Five Elements which are part of the Confucian Canon, it includes extracts from the history of the Chinese state of Lu from 722 to 484 BCE, said to have been compiled by Confucius.

springing line
The level at which an arch springs from its supports.


    1. An arch or system of concentrically wider and gradually projecting arches, placed diagonally at the internal angles of towers to fit a polygonal or round superstructure onto a square plan.
    2. Corner support to a dome made up of sections.

squint (=hagioscope)
Christian: An obliquely cut opening in a wall or through a pier to allow a view of the main altar of a church from places whence it could not otherwise be seen.

stag (animal)
Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): In sacred depiction, a stag indicates the man portrayed is St. Hubert.

stalactite work
Muslim: Ceiling ornament often found in a mosque formed by corbelled squinches made of several layers of brick scalloped out to resemble natural stalactites.

Star of David (Hebrew: Magen David =" Shield of David")
Jewish: Six-pointed star; a decorative motif typical of synagogues. This symbol was first associated with the Jewish people only in the 17th and 18th centuries. Only in modern times has it become a symbol of Judaism and of modern Israel.

A carved seat of wood or stone in a row of similar seats; if hinged, often carved on the underside. (See misericord)

Stations of the Cross

    1. Christian (Roman Catholic): A series of 14 carvings or paintings, usually hung on the walls of the nave of a church, which show the sequence of incidents at the end of Christ's life, before which prayers are said, especially during Lent and in particular on Good Friday.
    2. Christian (Roman Catholic): A series of 14 free-standing sculptures used as devotional aids, often in a garden setting.

Christian: The tower and spire of a church taken together.

A stone slab, usually inscribed, and used as a gravestone or, with a historical or religious inscription, placed in a temple.

A detached colonnade found in Classical Greek architecture.

Christian (Roman Catholic): A vessel to contain Holy Water, placed near the entrance of a church; usually in the form of a shallow dish set against a wall or pier or in a niche.

string course
A continuous projecting horizontal band set inthe surface of an exterior wall and usually molded.

In architecture: The “bones” of a building, its skeleton, its framework.

Plaster work used in imitation of stone, often decorately incised or elaborately molded.

stupa (Sanskrit: "cairn", "monument")
Buddhist: A dome-shaped or bell-shaped mound, a stylized tumulus, commemorating the death of a Buddha or other enlightened person and usually containing relics. The dome of the stupa symbolizes the universe; the four gates at the four corners of a surrounding wall symbolize the winds. In a typical Buddhist stupa, five geometric forms are stacked to represent the universe: the square at the base symbolizes the earth; the circle equals water; the triangle, fire; the crescent, air, and the diamond represents the ethereal qualities of space.

Continuous base supporting a row or rows of columns.

sukkah (Hebrew: "tabernacle")
Jewish: A temporary structure built especially for the festival of Sukkot. Most are set up in backyards, on porches or balconies. A sukkah has no solid roof. Rather it is covered with branches, leaves or other natural growth. The covering is supposed to be thick enough to provide shade, but light enough that one can still see the stars at night shining through it.

Sunday clothes (=Sunday best)
Christian (American): Vernacular term, especially in Appalachia, for a man's best suit of clothes or a woman's best dress, worn only to Sunday morning church services, weddings, funerals or other special events.

sutra (Sanskrit: "thread"; =Pali: sutta)

    1. Hindu: A principle summarizing a teaching from the Vedas.
    2. Buddhist: The teaching discourses of the Buddhist canon, most are presented as the words of the historic Buddha.

Sutra Pitaka (Sanskrit)
Buddhist: The discourses of the Buddha. Part of the Tripitaka.

Swamini Vato
Hindu (Gujarati): "The Guru’s Word"; excerpts from the spiritual talks of Akshar Brahman Gunatitanand Swami. See also: Swamini Vato.

sword and lance
Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): A man portrayed in a sacred depiction holding a sword and lance was a soldier.

(see also church)

    1. Jewish: Traditionally, the main public institution of a community.
    2. In contemporary usage: A Jewish congregation or the place where it gathers or assembles for worship.

Christian: The bench or benches reserved for the clergy in the semicircle of the apse or in rows on either side of the bema, especially in Early Christian and Byzantine-style churches.


Ta Hsueh (or, Great Learning)
Confucian: One of the
Four Books included in the Confucian Canon.

Muslim (Shi'ite): Blessed food.


    1. Christian (especially Roman Catholic): A special receptacle, often richly decorated and of special material, for conserving the bread or wafers consecrated during a Mass. It is often placed on or near the main altar of a church, but large churches may have special chapels for this "reserved sacrament.
    2. In popular usage: An elaborate and/or large building used for religious purposes.
    3. An ornamented recess or receptacle to contain the Holy Sacrament or relics.
    4. A free-standing canopy.
    5. Jewish: see Feast of Tabernacles.

Sikh/Hindu: A traditional hand drum, often used in religious ritual on the Indian subcontinent.

tabut ("coffin")
Muslim (Shi'ite): Replicas of coffins carried in julus.

Shinto: Grand shrine.

tallit (=tallis; Hebrew or Yiddish)
Jewish: A ritual prayer shawl worn by men, with braided fringes attached to each of its four corners.

Talmud (plural: Talmudim; Hebrew)

    1. An extensive commentary on the first collection of Jewish Law known as Mishnah. There are two editions, the Babylonian and the Jerusalem.
    2. The authoritative collection of Jewish tradition comprising the Mishnah and Gemara.

tamagaki (Japanese)
Shinto/Buddhist: A fence or wall surrounding shrine buildings or defining the boundaries of shrine precincts. The
tamagaki may be made of wood or stone and is sometimes found in multiple layers.

tamagushi (Japanese)
Shinto: A small branch of green leaves presented to a deity.

Tao Te Ching (Chinese: "Book of Truth and Virtue")
Taoist: Scriptures written/compiled by Lao-Tzu.

A type of mud brick.


    1. A pack of 78 cards used for games.
    2. New Age: The same pack of 78 cards, used for divination, especially among Wiccans.

(See also rosary)
Muslim (Shi'ite): Prayer beads.

Jewish: A dais or rostrum for the reader in a synagogue. Adjoining it to the east is the Chief Rabbi's seat.

tefillin (Hebrew: "phylacteries")
Jewish: The two black leather boxes worn on the left arm and head by adult males during weekday morning services These are not so much phylacteries or amulets as a literal application of a biblical commandment. The black leather box-shaped instruments contain excerpts from Scripture: Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21.

temenos (Greek: "sanctuary")

    1. An area marked off from common use either for a king, or for a god.
    2. Temenos is a leading Scandinavian journal of religious studies.

temizuya (Japanese)
Shinto: The structure where ablutions of hands and mouth are performed near the entrance of a Shinto shrine.


    1. Common usage: A building where worship takes place.
    2. Popular usage: Most often used to denote buildings used for worship by Jews, Hindus and Buddhists.

A level promenade in front of a building.

terra cotta
Fired but unglazed clay, used mainly for wall covering and ornamentation as it can be fired in molds.

A flooring finish of marble chips mixed with cement mortar and laid in situ; the surface is then ground and polished.

The small cubes of glass, stone, marble or tile used in mosaic.

An adjective describing a cement floor or wall covering in which tesserae are embedded.

Buddhist: A scroll painting with a religious meaning or theme.

thobe (Arabic)
Muslim (Gulf States, esp. Saudi Arabia): A long shirt-like dress worn by men; usually made of white cooton, but can be heavier and darker-colored for he winter months.

tie beam
Horizontal beam forming part of the structure of a roof. It connects two walls, preventing them from moving apart.

Hindu: A colorful vermillion powder applied to the forehead, between the eyes, as a symbol of the presence of the divine.

Sacred statue or amulet.

topi (Nepalese)
Hindu: Formal, traditional Nepali cap worn by adult males.

Torah (Hebrew: "teaching", "instruction", "revelation")

    1. Jewish: The first section of the Hebrew Bible, it contains the five Books of Moses, known as the Pentateuch.
    2. Common usage: A general term referring to law and instruction of divine origin.

Torah Shrine
Jewish: The place in a synagogue where the Torah scrolls are kept between readings.

Hindu/Buddhist: a decorative carved crest suspended over the door of a sanctum, with the figure of the enshrined deity at its center.

torii (Japanese)

    1. Shinto: A symbolic gateway erected at the entrance to the sacred precincts of a shrine, separating the inner area from the profane world surrounding it. Several torii may be erected along the avenue of approach.
    2. Common usage: A symbolic gateway; often seen in Japanese-style gardens.

Structural systems comprosing posts and beams and used for simple support.

The ornamental work in the upper part of a window, screen, or panel, or used decoratively in blank arches and vaults. Most commonly used to describe the decorative carved stonework of
Gothic church windows.

trang hat (Vietnamese: meditation beads)
(see also rosary)
Buddhist: A symbol of unity and harmony among all beings. The strand is composed of beads on a string, each representing an individual. However, each bead is not isolated and independent, but connected with all the others.


    1. Common usage: The transverse arms of a cross-shaped church, usually between nave and chancel, but also occasionally at the west end of the nave as well, and also doubled, with the eastern arms farther east than the junction of nave and chancel.
    2. Christian (architecture): In a Latin cross plan (as in a Gothic cathedral) the section that crosses the nave, usually separating the nave and the choir.
    3. Christian (architecture): Area of a cruciform church which laterally intersects the main body of the building at the crossing.
    4. Christian (architecture): Part of a church or cathedral built at right angles to the nave and choir, often housing small chapels.

A three-lobed or leaf-shaped curve formed by the cusping of a circle or arch.


    1. A raised platform or rostrum.
    2. Christian: The apse of a basilica or basilica-style church.
    3. Christian: The gallery in a church.

The arcaded story between the nave arcade and the clerestory.

A projecting block incised with two vertical grooves, producing a rhythmic decoration on the frieze of Classical buildings.

The framing or edging of openings and other features on a façade or indoors. It is usually of a color and material different from that of the adjacent wall surface.

Tripitaka (=tipitaka) (Sanskrit: "three baskets")

    1. Buddhist (Theravadan): The Pali canon.
    3. Buddhist (Theravadan, Mahayanan): The earliest settled scriptures, which are divided into three main sections: Sutra Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka, and Abhidharma Pitaka.

Three panels joined together by hinges.

Hindu: The trident, chief symbol of Shiva.

Tu Di Gong
Taoist : One of the statues found on altars representing the lord of the soil, guardian of the realm of the ancestors and bestower of wealth. (See also
Tu Di Gong in second second of glossary.)

tulsi (Nepalese)
Hindu: The sacred basil plant.

tunal (Nepalese)
Hindu: The carved strut of a temple.

A very small and slender tower.


    1. Christian: The sculptural area enclosed by the arch above the main exterior doors of a cathedral.
    2. The area between the lintel of a doorway and the arch above it; also the triangular or segmental space enclosed by the moldings of a pediment.
    3. The triangular space enclosed by the horizontal base and sloping cornices of a pediment, often decorated.

tzitzit (Hebrew)

    1. Jewish: The braided fringes on the four corners of a tallit, which represent the four corners of the world and which are knotted so as to correspond, numerically, with the name of God.
    2. Jewish: A poncho-like undershirt worn by men, which has these fringes attached to its four corners.


Christian: A vaulted space, sometimes underground, below the main level of a church or chapel.


    1. Hindu: Scriptures.
    2. Hindu: Early Brahministic religious texts.
    3. Hindu: Speculations on Vedic thought.



Hindu (Gujarati):
Scripture, the Lord Swaminarayan’s spoken word; word for word compilation of 262 day to day discourses in Gujarati. See Vachanamrut

vajra (also, dorje)
Buddhist: In Tantric Buddhism, a ritual thunderbolt or curved scepter symbolizing the Absolute. It also representes power and male energy.

Arched masonry covering over a building, based on the shape of the arch; used for the most part as a ceiling or roof. Common types of vaults are barrel (also known as tunnel or wagon), groin (or cross), rib and fan.

    1. barrel vault: Single vault with a continuous, semicircular section; also known as a tunnel vault or wagon vault.
    2. fan vault: A rib vault in which the ribs radiate from the springing point like a fan. Style of vaulting typical of England in the 16th century, in which the ribs are of equal length and form a fan shape.
    3. groin vault: Two barrel vaults intersecting at right angles.

Veda (adjective: Vedic) (Sanskrit: "knowledge")
Hindu: The corpus of Hindu scriptures.

vedica (Nepalese)
Hindu: A sacrificial altar.

vihara (Sanskrit, Pali)
Buddhist: A monastery or nunnery, usually encompassing a bahal and a bahil.

Vinaya Pitaka (Sanskrit)
Buddhist: Accounts on the origin of the sangha and the rules of monastic discipline. Part of the Tripitaka.


One of the wedge-shaped blocks, usually of stone, making up an arch or vault.

Vulgate (from Latin, editio vulgata: "common edition")
Christian (Roman Catholic): The Latin version of the Bible completed by St. Jerome in approximately 404 CE, which came into common use in western Christendom, specifically Roman Catholic Christianity.


Christian: The wooden panelling of pews.

Buddhist (Theravada): A complex of buildings used for worship and teaching.

Christian: The tower-like structure on the west end of Carolingian or Romanesque-style churches. It comprises an entrance and vestibule with a chapel above. The central structure often is flanked by stair

Jewish: Plant used in the celebration of Sukkot.

In general, the style of window is indicative of the style of the building. Romanesque churches have rounded (semicircular) heads . Oeil de boeuf ("ox eye") windows (round windows set into walls) are used in the Baroque style.

    1. ajimez (Muslim - Spanish/Moorish): Pairs of small windows divided by a column or pier.
    2. lattice window: A window with diamond-shaped leaded lights or with glazing bars arranged like an open-work screen; any hinged window.
    3. leaded lights: Rectangular or diamond-shaped panes of glass set in lead cames to form a window.
    4. wheel window: A window used primarily in Romanesque architecture in which mullions radiate from the center of the window like the spokes of a wheel.

wolf (animal)
Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): In sacred portrayal, a wolf indicates the man depicted is St. Wolf.

wood saw (tool)
Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): In sacred depiction, a wood saw indicates the man depicted is St. Joseph.


Buddhist: A Tantric erotical, symbolic of unity and oneness.

Jewish: Skullcap worn by (some) adult males at times of worship (and by some at all times).

yashiro (Japanese)
Shinto: One of several terms for shrine.

yeshiva (Yiddish: place of sitting)

    1. Common usage: An academy of Talmud studies.
    2. Jewish: The main educational institution of traditional Judaism, with an all-male student body usually ranging in age from early teens to mid-20s.

Hindu: A stone with a hole in the center, symbolizing the female sexual aspect; usually placed with a lingam.

Y'uqi qiqian
Taoist: A repository of sacred scriptures in 122 sections compiled by Zhang Junfang during the years CE 1004-1007.

Buddhist (Zen): A small round cushion used as a seat during zazen.

zaniku (=zabuton)
Buddhist (Zen): A large rectangular flat pad placed under the zafu which cushions the knees.

Muslim (Shi'ite): Decorative grave covering.

zendo (Japanese; =Korean: sonbang)
Buddhist (Zen): A meditation hall.
Buddhist (Zen): An informal hall for meditation, which may combine the function and layout of a sodo and hondo.

A tower structure rising in consecutive and diminishing levels reached by stairs or a ramp.

ziyarat khanah
Muslim (Shi'ite): A place for displaying religious artifacts evocative of the ahl al-bayt.

end of this magnum opus, for now.... more to come as it's coded and uploaded! illustrations coming, too!

© Susan McKee
(created 1997)
(last updated 1 March 2018)