Church Monuments Society


Glossary of terms

This guide explains the specialised terms of medieval armour and architecture used when talking about tomb carvings. We plan to expand this with terms used for clothing and ecclesiastical vestments, and some of the other technical terms used in describing effigies.

Click on the relevant link to access the correct section. Each section is also alphabetically bookmarked.


AKETON A padded coat worn beneath the mail in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and also often used as a defence in its own right.
AILETTES Wing-like additions to the shoulders, normally rectangular,sometimes found laced to the mail in the later thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Thought once by many writers to have had a defensive purpose, but they were probably purely decorative and often serving heraldic significance, to display the wearer’s arms. There use was almost wholly confined to England, France and Flanders.
ARMING POINTS Cords furnished with tags and attached to the arming doublet, hose and shoes for tying on elements of armour, usually threaded through holes in the upper vambrace, couters, cuisses and sabatons.
AVENTAIL A tippet of mail attached to staples (vervelles) alongthe edge of the face-opening of the basinet to protect the throat and neck, and the top of the shoulders.
BACINET The bacinet was originally alight helmet (the word means ‘little basin’ in French), but it was later applied to what is now called a great-bacinet, and eventually, in the sixteenth, the tilting-helm.
BESAGEW The besagew was usually round or oval, and could be on the elbows, or even (horizontally) as a guard on the haft of an axe.
BEVOR A defence for the lower part of the face.
BREASTPLATE Protection of the chest, generally formed by one main plate of steel, but in the fifteenth century often of two plates,an upper and lower, the latter overlapping the former.
CAPE A term used in this article to describe the lower part of a coif or aventail which covers the top of the shoulders and upper chest.
CANNON One of the tubular plates protecting the upper and lower arms.
CHAPE The metal terminal of a scabbard or a belt.
CIRCLET or CIRCLE A narrow fillet around the brow of the head,worn over the coif. Sometimes circlets are decorated, at other times they are plain. In some case the plain examples may represent a strap, possibly securing a metal scull-cap under the coif.
COAT ARMOUR See surcoat.
COAT-OF-PLATES It consisted of metal plates attached by rivets to a textile cover or, more rarely, lining. It started to come into use from the first half of the thirteenth century. Gowns lined with such plates, often only identifiable by the heads of the rivets holding them.
COIF A hood. The mail coif fitted closely to the head and neck, and a flap crossed the chin and was fastened at the side, leaving only a portion of the face exposed. At first it was an extension of the hauberk, but about the middle of the thirteenth century it was made independent of it, falling to the shoulders.
COUTER The defence for the elbow.
CREST Heraldic device surmounting the helm, introduced in the second half of the twelfth century, but not common until the fourteenth century.
CUISSE Armour for the thigh. Cuisses on effigies are often represented as mail, leather, metal and in some instances quilted.
CUSP A curved projecting point in the ornamentation of architectural arches and armour decoration.
DAGGER The dagger is first recorded as an accompaniment to the sword in the late thirteenth century. It first appears on English effigies in the early fourteenth century.
ENARME A loop on the inner side of the shield grasped by the hand or through which the left arm was passed.
GAUNTLET Defensive glove.
GORGET Defence of the neck and throat, and upper part of the chest.
GREAVE Plate armour for the leg between knee and ankle,introduced at first for the protection of the shin only and strapped over the mail in the second half of the thirteenth century. Closed-greaves consisting of a front and back plate, modeled to the calf and hinged together, came into use in the fourteenth century.
GRIP That part of a weapon (e.g. of the hilt of a sword or dagger between the pommel and the guard) which is grasped in the hand.
GUSSETS Mail patches sewn to the arming-doublet to cover parts not protected by plate. the armpits, elbows and fork.
HAUBERK A shirt of mail.
HELM The great helm, covering the entire head and face and reaching nearly to the shoulders, was introduced at the end of the twelfth century.
HOSE Mail stockings.
LAMES A thin plate, especially one of metal. Mobility was achieved by means of loose-fitting rivets and internal leathers.
LOCKET Metal band encircling the scabbard, including that at the mouth of the sheath.
MAIL Flexible armour made of iron or steel rings, each passing through its four neighbours.
MUFFLER Muffler is the term for a mail mitten. A bag-like extension attached to the sleeve of a hauberk or gambeson with a separate stall for the thumb. The mail did not extend over the palm of the hand, which was covered by either fabric or leather, with as lit so that the hand could be released when fighting was not imminent.
ORLE The orle was a roll worn around the skull of the bacinet. It was often represented as if decorated with precious stones and pearls.
PAULDRON Plate defence for the shoulders, attaining its maximum development in the large Italian pauldrons of the fifteenth century, when it had large extensions covering the armpits before and behind.
POLEYN Plate defence for the knee introduced to reinforce mail in the second half of the thirteenth century. It later had a fan-shaped wing on the outer side, and was articulated both to the cuisse and to the greave.
POMMEL The spherical or other-shaped termination of the hilt of the sword or dagger on the end of the grip farther from the blade,acting as a counterpoise to the blade and giving support to the hand.
QUILLONS A quillon is one of th two bars forming together the cross-guard of a sword.
SABATON Armour for the foot,comprising a toe-cap and a series of overlapping lames crossing the instep. Introduced early in the fourteenth century.
SALLET A light helmet shaped like a sou’wester, that in England,France and Germany during the second half of the fifteenth century virtually supplanted every other form for use in the field. The basinet survived only for the tournament.
SCABBARD The sheath of a sword or dagger.
SCHYNBALD A plate defence for the lower leg, which was strapped over the hose.
SKIRT (of lames) A defensive skirt consisting of a series of hoop-like lames descending from the waist of the breastplate and overlapping upwards.
SKULL That part of a helmet covering the cranium and occiput, sometimes referred to by old writers as the “basnet” or”bassinet-piece. Also used of a light steel cap.
SPAUDLER The spaudler is the early term for the small version of what was to develop into the pauldron.
SPURS Early spurs were of the prick variety, that is to say furnished with a simple goad or spike, often mounted on a ball, orcone. The rowel spur, with a wheel of five or more points, was introduced in the thirteenth century, but only became general in England from about 1330.
STANDARD OF MAIL Upstanding collar of mail, frequently worn in the fifteenth century.
SURCOAT A sleeveless garment worn over the mail in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. It was gradually shortened, until in the second half of the fourteenth century it became brief and tight fitting.
SWORD The medieval knightly sword was of simple cruciform structure with a straight, double-edged blade either with a central hollow, or sometimes of diamond section. Its component parts were the hilt and the blade with its tang, of which the former consists of the pommel, grip, and quillons.
TASSET One of several shaped plates that normally hang from the front of the skirt, but also sometimes from the sides and rear (hind tassets).
VENTAIL A flap of mail on the coif, drawn across the lower part of the face-opening and secured to the side of the temples.
VERVELLES Staples along the edges of the bacinet. Over which a leather band with corresponding holes attached to the upper edge of the mail aventail was secured by means of a lace passed through them.


ABACUS the flat slab on the top of a capital
ACANTHUS decoration based on a Mediterranean plant. Stylisation of the acanthusleaf began in Greek and Roman decoration, especially on the Corinthian capital.
AEDICULE the frames surrounding a classical doorway or window flanked by a pairof columns and topped by a pediment, but which has its origins in the architecturaltreatment of the shrines of the classical period.
APRON panel at the bottom of a hanging wall monument, often with decorative carving.
ARCH the spanning of an opening by reasons other than that of a lintel
ARCHITRAVE the lintel extending from one column to another.
ALTAR TOMB Monument with a tomb chest. They were never actually used as altars.
ARCHIVOLTS bands or mouldings surrounding an arched opening.
BALLFLOWER a globular motif often usedin concave moldings on tombs in the firsthalf of the 14th century. It looks like a flower with three (or sometimes four) petalsnearly closed over a central ball.
BARBED QUATREFOIL a four-lobed geometrical motif with a triangular projection atthe intersection of two adjacent foils.
BALDACCHINO a type of early l7th century English tomb featuring acentral stage-likearea, revealed behind curtains that are pulled openat each side either by being tiedto columns  or else manually bystanding (and occasionally seated) figures. Theseinclude angels, putti, and allegorical figures, as well as armed servants and soldiers.
BAS-RELIEF or LOW RELIEF sculpture in which the carved forms project only slightlyfrom the background.
BASE the architectural element on which a column or pier rests.
BATTLEMENT or CRENELLATION a parapet with alternating openings(embrasures) and raisedsections (merlons).
BEAD AND REEL a decorative motif consisting of oval motifs alternating with roundor elongated bead-shaped motifs. Much used in the ancient world and copied in theMiddle Ages.
BILLET MOULDING a molding composed wholly or in part of a series of billets. smallcubes, cylinders or prisms placed at regular intervals,so that their axis and thatof the entire series is parallel to the general direction of the molding.
BLIND ARCADE a row of decorative arches applied to a wall.
BROKEN PEDIMENT a pediment with the raking cornice interrupted at the apex, theoutline of which usually consists of a pair of S-curvest angent to the cornice levelat the ends of the pediment, rising to a pair of scrolls on either side of the centre,where a finial often rises between the scrolls.
CANOPY the architectural roof-like projection over a monument.
CARTOUCHE Ornamental or inscribed wall tablet, with an elaboratescroll-like frameresembling curling pieces of parchment, common in Baroque work.
CHEVRON a zig-zag motif.
CIBORIUM a canopy resting on columns over the tomb chest.
CINQUEFOIL a five-lobed ornamental shape.
COADE STONE an artificial stone manufactured in London in the late 18th and early19th centuries, used for figure sculpture, monuments,architectural dressings, anddecorative work. Essentially a type of clay, fired in a kiln at high temperature,it was named after Eleanor Coade (1733–1821), who set up in business in Lambeth in1769.
COLONNADE a row of columns carrying an entablature or arches.
COLUMN an upright pillar or post.
CORBEL a supporting architectural bracket or block projecting from a wall.
CORINTHIAN CAPITAL A capital used originally by the Greeks and used often in themedieval period in a system of supports called the Corinthian order. It is decoratedwith 3 superimposed rows of carved foliage (acanthus leaves) around the capital.At the comers of the capital there are small volutes.
CORNICE the uppermost section of moldings along the top of a monument.
CROCKET CAPITAL A simplified adaptation of the Corinthian capital commonly usedin the Gothic period.
CROSS SLAB a stone monument which has an incised or relief cross as the main feature.They were especially common in the period to 1300.
CUSP a curved, triangular-shaped projection from the inner curve of anarch or circle.
DENTIL one of a series of closely spaced,rectangular blocks that form a molding.Dentil molding usually projects below the cornice.
DEPRESSED ARCH a flattened arch, slightly pointed on top. It appears in Late Gothictombs of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
DIAGONAL RIBS diagonal ribs the moldings which mark the diagonals in a rib vaultin a tomb canopy.
DIAPER a pattern formed by small, repeated geometrical motifs set adjacent to oneanother, used to decorate stone surfaces on monuments.
DOG TOOTH an ornamental motif consisting of a square, four-leafed figure, the centreof which projects in a point.
DORIC ORDER the earliest of the Greek orders also adapted by the Romans.
EFFIGY the carved figure representing the person commemorated by the monument.
EGG AND DART a repetitive decorative motif often used in classical antiquity andcopied in the Middle Ages. It consisted of oval(egg-shaped) motifs alternating withdart-like motifs.
ENTABLATURE superstructure which lies horizontally upon the columns and constitutingthe architrave, frieze, and cornice.
EVANGELIST SYMBOLSE symbols for the authors of the four New Testament books whichare narratives of the life of Christ. These symbols were often seen on incised slabsand brasses. The symbols were:Matthew: angel (man); Mark: lion; Luke: ox; John: eagle.
FAN VAULT a vault of a tomb canopy which consists of fan-shaped half cones whichusually meet at the centre of avault.
FLEUR-DE-LYS stylised lily which served as symbol for the French monarchy.
FINIAL a formal ornament at the top of a canopy, gable, or pinnacle.
FLUTING shallow, concave grooves running vertically on the shaft of a column, pilaster,or other surface.
FOLIATE CAPITAL a capital decorated with foliage elements.
FRIEZE a horizontal band that runs below the cornice. The frieze maybe decoratedwith designs or carvings.
GESSO raised decoration made from calcium sulphate or calcium carbonate and animalglue.
GREEK KEY an ornamental motif consisting of continuous bands arranged in rectilinearforms.
HANGING ARCH an arch which has, or seems to have, no vertical supports.
HANGING WALL MONUMENT Mural monument mounting some distance above theground.
HOOD MOULDING a projecting molding on the wall above an arch.
INCISED SLAB a monument with the design cut into the stone slab.
INTERLACE a decorative motif consisting of threads passing aver and under each otherlike threads in lace.
IONIC CAPITAL a capital used originally by the Greeks in a system of supports calledthe Ionic order. An Ionic capital has a volute, or a spiral scroll-like carving,on each side as its major decoration.
IONIC ORDER an order that originated in Asia Minor in the mid-sixth century B.C.
JAMB the vertical face of an arch.
LEDGER SLAB a floor monument with inscription, often below an achievement or shieldof arms.
LIERNE a minor rib in a complex rib vault. Liernes do not spring from the main springers.
LINENFOLD decorative motif in the form of a folded piece of linen cloth, usuallycarved in low relief.
LOZENGE a diamond shape.
MANDORLA an almond-shaped motif in which Christ sits; sometimes used also for theVirgin.
MONUMENTAL BRASS brass. An engraved copper-alloy plate used as a commemorative monument.Sometimes these were set murally or in the backwall of a tomb recess, but usuallythey were set horizontally, flush with the pavement of a church.
MOSAIC decoration created by setting small pieces of glass, stone, or marble ina matrix. This was most popular for monuments in the Victorian period.
NAIL-HEAD an ornamental motif of small pyramids, said to represent the heads ofnails, very popular in the 12th century.
NICHE a vertical recess in a wall monument or tomb chest, usuall yarched and containinga ‘weeper’ figure or saint.
OBELISK a tall, tapering shaft of stone,usually monolithic, of square or rectanglesection and ending pyramidally.
OCULUS a circular opening in a canopy.
OGEE ARCH an arch with a pointed apex, formed by the intersection of two S curvesusually confined to decoration and not used in arcade arches.
PASTIGALIA raised decoration made from calcium sulphate or calcium carbonate andanimal glue, commonly termedgesso.
PEDIMENT a low-pitched triangular gable on the front of a monument.
PENDANT a hanging architectural member formed by ribs. They often appear in conjunctionwith fan vaults.
PILASTER a rectangular support that resembles a flat column. The pilaster projectsonly slightly from the wall, and has a base, a shaft,and a capital.
PLINTH the base of a monument.
POLYCHROMY the painted decoration applied to medieval stone tombs. The stone wasinitially sealed by a layer of size, perhaps animal glue;next a thin layer of leadwhite was applied to form a ground; and finally a thin layer of oil sealant addedto prevent absorption into the porous ground of binding media from subsequent paintlayers, andt hus to ensure that the translucency of the polychromy was not compromised.The complex and sophisticated applied decoration involved,as well as the layeringof pigments, the use of raised decoration and gold and silver leaf beneath translucentglazes.
PUTTI chubby angel-like figures seen on post-Reformation monuments.
QUATREFOIL a decorative moulding often seen on tomb chests composed of four equallobes, like a four-petalled flower.
RIB an arch of masonry, often molded, which forms part of the framework on whicha vault rests. Ribs generally project from the undersurface of the vault.
ROUNDEL a circular ornament or moulding.
RUSTICATION masonry cut in massive blocks, sometimes in a crude state to give arich and bold texture.
SARCOPHAGUS a stone coffin, often bearing sculpture, inscriptions, etc.
SEMI-EFFIGIAL MONUMENT a monument with a figure of the person commemorated shownonly in part,such as a bust or the head and feet, usually shown in apertures in theslab.
SHAFT the trunk of a column between the base and the capital.
SOFFIT the underside of an arch, opening, or projecting architectural element.
SPANDREL the triangular space between the side of an arch, the horizontal aboveits apex, and the vertical of its springing; the surface between two arches in anarcade.
SPIRE a tall, pyramidal, polygonal, or conical structure terminating  in a point.
SPRINGER the lowest voussoir on each side of an arch. It is where the vertical supportfor the arch terminates and the curve of the arch begins.
STRAPWORK  a kind of ornament consisting of a narrow fillet or band folded, crossed,and interlaced.
TERRACOTTA fired but unglazed clay, used mainly for monuments in sixteenth century.
TIERCERON a major rib in a complex ribvault Tiercerons spring from the main springers.
TRACERY the ornamental work in canopies and on tomb chests, often used decorativelyin blank arches.
TUSCAN ORDER a Roman order that resembles the Doric order but without a fluted shaft.In the Tuscan order, the column had a simpler base and was unfluted.
VOLUTE a spiral scroll on an Ionic capital.
VOUSSOIR a brick or wedge-shaped stone forming one of the units of an arch.
WEBBING OR INFILLING the vault surface between the ribs of a rib vault.
WEEPER a figure in a recess in a tomb chest, often representing a relative or associateof the person commemorated.