What is an Apse in Architecture?

What is an Apse in Architecture?

What is an Apse in Architecture?

An apse is a semicircular or polygonal recess, often covered with a hemispherical vault, that is commonly found in the liturgical east end of Christian churches, cathedrals, and abbeys.

It serves as the termination of the main building and may have a flat, sloping, domed, or hemispherical roof. Smaller apses can also be found in other parts of the church, such as for shrines of saints. The domed apse became a standard part of church architecture in the early Christian era.

In Eastern Orthodox Church tradition, the south apse is known as the diaconicon and the north apse as the prothesis.

Origin Of The Apse Design

An apse is a semicircular or polygonal extension of a choir, chancel, or aisle in a secular or religious building. It was first used in ancient Roman architecture as an enlarged niche for statues of deities in temples, as well as in baths and basilicas.

During the Early Christian era, the apse became a standard feature of churches and was often decorated with marble and mosaic. The orientation of the apse was changed from the west to the east by the Catholic Church in the 6th and 7th centuries.

Changes in liturgical practices led to the addition of apses at the end of side aisles or transepts. The altar was moved from the apse to the choir and eventually to the back wall during the Renaissance, resulting in increased preaching in the nave of the church.

Variations to the apse developed during the Romanesque period, with the addition of an ambulatory and apse chapels in French architecture. The apse remains a standard feature in ecclesiastical architecture, particularly in churches with traditional Latin cross or centralized plans.

Uses Of The Apse Today

Apses were originally utilized in pre-Christian Roman architecture as a space for statues of deities and in bath complexes.

In Christian architecture, they were later incorporated into basilicas and other religious buildings as a semi-circular or polygonal recess at the end of the structure. They were also used in Byzantine architecture and in various countries such as France, Germany, and Italy.

In cruciform church plans, apses were used to terminate the transepts and nave. In England, apses were initially semi-circular but later became polygonal during the Gothic period.

They experienced a resurgence in popularity during the Victorian period with the resurgence of interest in Greek, Roman, and Gothic architecture.

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