It's NewThe Champing™ Guide to Church Architecture

By Jessica Aiers (2nd February 2016)

Polly, aged 2 and in architectural awe at Wells Cathedral

Polly Aiers, when aged 2 and agog with architectural awe at Wells Cathedral

Do you know your rood dado from your flying buttress? No, that’s not meant as an insult and we’re not making words up, these terms all mean something in the world of ecclesiastical architecture.

You might be familiar with the more well-known churchy terms such as nave, font and altar – but do you know what that odd little double-arched opening in the wall is, either next to the altar or in the vestry? When you have a whole church to yourself to explore, imagine how satisfying it would be to tap your fingers to your chin, adopt the manner of one about to impart great knowledge and murmur in sage tones:

A piscina (with a thirsty dog in it).

A piscina (with a thirsty dog in it).

Hmmm, what a fine example of a piscina – a shallow basin for washing the communion vessels. It comes from the Latin for fish-pond and these were really quite rare in England until around the 13th century”.

Gosh. We’d be impressed. Even if you were only talking to yourself.

As one champer to another, here’s what you might like to know about Anglican ecclesiastical architecture for church buildings in England. The following is a light-hearted look at the etymology of a few architectural terms, pointy bits and all. Who knows, the next time you pass a church you might find yourself noting “Oooh, just look at the crenellated parapet on that…”

icon_what-is-champingBefore I start, it’s important to make a point about the general layout of an Anglican church. I don’t know about you, but I tend to find all the talk of east window and north door etc rather mystifying, I only have a front door and a back door on my house (and I recently added a side door. I know. Get me and my growing door collection). It’s rather like travelling the grid system of Milton Keynes – it’s all very well knowing that you can go horizontally, vertically or diagonally to reach your destination, but if you don’t know where you joined the grid or in which direction your destination lies, talk of linear movement just isn’t helping, OK?!

Champing church icon

The main thing to remember is that all Christian churches are in the shape of a Christian cross (except when they’re not) and the top end of that cross points to the east in the direction of Jerusalem or the sunrise on the patron saint day for that church dedication (except when it doesn’t). Churches are often found on hilltops (except when they’re not) and are recognisable by their architectural style and size and can be seen a long way off by their roofline; spires, towers, steeples, domes, turrets (except when they don’t have any of these).

So, we’re all clear on what an Anglican church in England looks like? Let’s begin:

Cross-illustrationAltar The ceremonial table at which Holy Communion is celebrated. Should always be spelt correctly, or people get really cross. (Grammatical context matters, as per stationery and stationary, dependent and dependant. Pedants of the world unite and take over).

Champing children under the angels

Champing children under the angels

Angel Roof A church roof containing carved angels. (We didn’t really think you’d need it explaining ,but we thought you’d like this photograph of the angel-tastic church roof of St Michael the Archangel in Booton, Norfolk…)

Apex The pointiest bit of an arch.

Arcade A series of arches within a wall, separating off an area like an aisle. Not a place where the flashing lights and penny slot machines are.

Baldachino A canopy over the altar, supported on columns and sometimes called a ciborium. (Or it could be a disappointing cappuccino, without the milky froth on the top? Or a bald barista).

Battlemented Parapet A parapet with crenellations or battlements (alternate raised or lowered sections). May also be called crenellated or castellated. Usually associated with children’s drawings of castles, and in film history is an inevitable place for baddies chucking people over the edge of.


Belfry A room or structure in which bells are hung, usually the tower. If separate from the church building it’s called a campanile, if you want to get all Italian about it.

Blind or Wall Arcade An arcade built flat against a wall, as a decorative feature. Very pretty and not at all reminiscent of bricked-up windows.

Boss An ornamental knob covering the intersection of ribs in a vault or on a ceiling. Not your line manager or a slang expression of something being, like, way cool.

Box-pew A pew surrounded by wooden panelling and traditionally with a lockable door. The ideal wooden cubicle in which to champ the night away.

Cosy comfort in West Stourmouth box pew

Cosy comfort in West Stourmouth box pew

Broken pediment a pediment where the apex is missing. Not the place in the body that might feel the effects of too much strenuous champing activity, such as “Geoffrey loved to champ so much, he ended up with a broken pediment”.

Buttress Masonry built against a wall to give the structure extra strength and distribute the downward thrust. A flying buttress is one which stands away from the building, attached to it by a ‘bridge’. Also sounds like a rather ungainly bird or a matronly article of women’s clothing from days of old.

icon_alcoholChampernacle The place where a champer stores one’s champing supplies. These are usually of the ambient foods variety but may also include an impressive collection of Champing™ wine and can be consumed anywhere within the church curtilage.

Champsnargle / Champsnargling A persistent, loud and irritating sound made by a fellow champer during their sleep whose camp bed is just too far away for the swift administration of remedial thumping.

Chancel The section of the church containing the altar that you usually only go near to take Holy Communion, or to peer more closely at the reredos. An exaggerated tip-toeing action can sometimes be seen.

Bed-illustrationChamprestory The area in which a champer / Champing™ party can sleep. Note that this area can be found anywhere throughout the church and is sometimes the location of Champsnargling.

Communion Rails Rails in front of the altar at which the congregation kneels to receive communion. Designed to keep the great unwashed away from the ordained clergy and sacrament and a great place to keep items liberated from the champernacle.

DoNotDisturbSign-illustrationFlushchamp The palpable relief and newly-found eco fervour shown by a novice champer after making their first foray in to the world of the composting loo. Brave new world.

Font Container used for the consecrated (holy) water used in baptism, usually in the west part of the church. Also used in modern parlance to talk about size, weight and style of typeface, as per this rather attractive one…

Gargoyle A projecting stone carved in an unattractive facial manner, which redirects rainwater away from the walls and footings of a church, usually through a mouth-like spout. Not to be confused with a Grotesque, which is a decoration showing human and animal elements with a distorted face. Both are really, really ugly.

Gothic Usually a disenchanted, pale and pierced middle-class youth of either gender, who wants to be, like, really different from everyone, man. Or a style of architecture that flourished during the high and late medieval period, evolving from Romanesque architecture and succeeded by Renaissance architecture.

Hatchment A diamond shaped panel showing the coat of arms of a deceased person. Often displayed high on the church wall and I want one, eventually. With unicorns on. In pink.

An eagle lectern at Albury

An eagle lectern at Albury

Lectern A tall desk from which readings are made. Often takes the form of an eagle to symbolise John the Apostle. The symbolism derived from the belief that the eagle could stare unfalteringly into the sun and that Christians can view God’s word in a similar fashion. It may be that the eagle was believed to be the bird that flew closest to heaven, carrying the word of God to the four corners of the world. The eagle symbol is used to depict John the Apostle, whose writing is said to most clearly demonstrate the light and truth of Jesus Christ. So, now you know.

Misericord Wooden bottom-prop on the underside of a hinged choir stall seat, for blissful leaning against during long services whilst still appearing attentively upright.



Nave The main body of the church where the people sit and used for all sorts of things in the medieval period. Not to be confused with knave, as in Shakespeare’s “scurvy knave” (see the cross Nurse in Romeo & Juliet) or the baddie that made off with the jam tarts (see Knave of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland).

Pulpit A structure for the ordained clergy to speak from, raised above the congregation and not, as my young daughter would prefer, a “ball-pit”. (That was a confusing two minutes).

Reredos A pretty impressive religious decoration behind the altar and sometimes containing a statue in a niche.

Cross-illustrationRood The crucifix at the entrance to the chancel. Bear with us here…

Rood Screen A decorative screen dividing the Nave from the Chancel, topped with a Rood.

Rood Dado The bottom half of the Rood Screen, sometimes all that’s left.

Atop the rood stair in Duxford

Atop the rood stair in Duxford

Rood Loft A wooden gallery structure at the top of the Rood Screen, used for access to light the lamps in front of the Rood. Sometimes so roomy that medieval musicians would play instruments up there.

Rood Stair (not rude stare) A stair for access to the Rood Loft and always fun to climb. Getting back down can prove tricky. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Rood Champer the person in your group who is inordinately excited by the presence of the rood stair and wants to have his tea up there.

Transept The part of a church at the sides to the main cruciform structure. Usually where you find the people that don’t really want to commit to sitting within the eye line of the vicar, or where those with small, unpredictable children are usually invited to sit during cathedral services.

Turret A small tower. In parish churches they often contain staircases. And promises of exciting adventure.

Vestry A room in which vestments (clothing) are kept, and also used for other parish business. They are not usually used for the exclusive storage of vests.

This bear loved Champing™

This bear LOVED Champing™

Zealchamper. The thing that happens when you spend the night in a church, love it and evangelise to all you meet. Don’t let us stop you.

There are plenty more exciting ecclesiastical architectural terms we can introduce you to in the fullness of time, once our ChampBots have done the leg-work. Some of these words might even be genuine.

Return to our Champing™ blog soon – and thanks for reading!


In the beginning

Back in 2014, we came across the Wonderful Canoe2 at a local tourism event. They really liked our idea and between us we thought we could put together a package. Canoe2 operate along the River Nene, which flows near to All Saints’ Church, Aldwincle in a beautiful part of rural Northamptonshire and we found that outdoor activities, good local food and a sense of adventure are perfect partners when it comes to Champing™. And so our first Champing™ Church was born. From this model, we branched out to three, four and now ten churches across the estate of The Churches Conservation Trust.


Champing™ has been great at capturing people’s imaginations and sparking debate about the modern use of historic buildings. We’ve had really great feedback from people who’ve stayed and also some incredible media coverage from all over the world, including National Geographic Traveller and The New York Times! We’ve arrived!

It’s easy being green

People love that Champing™ is innovative and can demonstrate green credentials such as Eco Toilets and sustainable tourism. Champing™ supports the local economy and champions local businesses and other tourist attractions. Funds generated by Champing™ supports The Churches Conservation Trust, who in turn support these lovely buildings (you could say it’s a win-win situation).

Champing™ is  the ultimate in pop-up accomodation and everything is put away again at the end of the champ by our lovely Champing™ Crew ready for regular visitors, as demonstrated by our time-lapse video which was filmed in the chilly depths of winter, see below!