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

In architecture, an apse (pl.: apses; from Latin absis, 'arch, vault'; from Ancient Greek ἀψίς, apsis, 'arch'; sometimes written apsis; pl.: apsides) is a semicircular recess covered with a hemispherical vault or semi-dome, also known as an exedra. In Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic Christian church (including cathedral and abbey) architecture, the term is applied to a semi-circular or polygonal termination of the main building at the liturgical east end (where the altar is), regardless of the shape of the roof, which may be flat, sloping, domed, or hemispherical. Smaller apses are found elsewhere, especially in shrines.[1]


An apse is a semicircular recess, often covered with a hemispherical vault. Commonly, the apse of a church, cathedral or basilica is the semicircular or polygonal termination to the choir or sanctuary, or sometimes at the end of an aisle.

Smaller apses are sometimes built in other parts of the church, especially for reliquaries or shrines of saints.[citation needed]


The domed apse became a standard part of the church plan in the early Christian era.[2]

Related features

In the Eastern Orthodox Church tradition, the south apse is known as the diaconicon and the north apse as the prothesis. Various ecclesiastical features of which the apse may form part are drawn together here.


Main article: Chancel

The chancel (or sanctuary), directly to the east beyond the choir, contains the high altar, where there is one (compare communion table). This area is reserved for the clergy, and was therefore formerly called the "presbytery", from Greek presbuteros, "elder", [citation needed] or in older and Catholic usage "priest".[3]

Chevet-apse chapels

"Chevet" redirects here. For the parish in England, see Chevet, West Yorkshire.

See also: Apse chapel

Semi-circular choirs, first developed in the East, which came into use in France in 470.[4] By the onset of the 13th century, they had been augmented with radiating apse chapels outside the choir aisle, the entire structure of apse, choir and radiating chapels coming to be known as the chevet (French, "headpiece").[5]


See also


  1. ^ "Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Floor Plan". NationalShrine.com. Archived from the original on 9 August 2017. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  2. ^ "Apse". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  3. ^ "Where in the New Testament are Priests Mentioned". Catholic Answers. Catholic Answers. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  4. ^ Moss, Henry, The Birth of the Middle Ages 395-814, Clarendon Press, 1935
  5. ^ "Chevet", Encyclopædia Britannica