Exploring the Architecture of Cathedrals: What Is the Central Space of a Cathedral Called?

Have you ever walked into a cathedral and gazed up at the beautiful, grand space in front of you? Whether you’re religious or not, there’s no denying the awe-inspiring feeling that a cathedral can evoke. But what exactly is that central, spacious area called? It’s the nave, my friend.

The nave is the primary gathering space of a cathedral, usually located between the entrance and the choir area. It’s where people come together to worship, attend services, and listen to sermons. This area is often grand and open, featuring high ceilings and intricate architecture.

But why is the nave so important? For one, it represents a central gathering space for the community. It’s where people can come together to share a common experience and connect with their faith. Additionally, the nave often holds important religious relics and artworks, creating a historical and cultural significance for visitors. So next time you step into a cathedral, take a moment to appreciate the grandeur and significance of the nave.

Cathedral Architecture

The architecture of cathedrals has fascinated people for centuries. These majestic structures, often towering high above their surroundings, are striking symbols of spiritual and cultural heritage. At the heart of a cathedral lies a central space that holds a significant place in the history of architecture.

The Central Space of a Cathedral

The central space of a cathedral is known as the nave. It is the area that runs from the main entrance to the transept or the choir. The nave is usually the largest part of the cathedral and is essential in the overall design of the building. Many cathedrals showcase their architectural talents by creating intricate and beautiful designs on the nave’s roof, walls, and columns.

The Features of the Nave

  • The nave is usually long and narrow, creating a feeling of grandeur and space.
  • The ceiling of the nave is often high and vaulted, suspended over tall columns and arches.
  • The nave often features intricate decorations, such as carvings, frescoes, and stained-glass windows.
  • The end of the nave closest to the choir or altar is often raised and separated from the rest of the nave by a chancel screen or steps.

The Significance of the Nave

The nave was originally designed to accommodate large congregations and processions. It was also intended to make visitors feel awe-inspired and humbled by the vastness of the space. The nave’s design often reflects the aspirations of the society that built it, with architectural features and artworks that celebrate the faith, culture, and achievements of the time.

Nave Features Examples
Vaulted ceiling Notre-Dame de Paris, France
Decorative carvings Salisbury Cathedral, England
Stained-glass windows Chartres Cathedral, France

The nave remains the heart of a cathedral, evoking a sense of wonder and reverence among visitors. It is a testament to the architectural achievements of the past while continuing to inspire awe and admiration for generations to come.

Gothic Cathedrals

Gothic cathedrals are some of the most impressive and awe-inspiring architectural wonders of the world. They are known for their towering architecture, intricate detail work, and grandiose style. One of the most striking features of these cathedrals is the central space or area, which serves as the focal point of the entire structure.

  • The central space of a Gothic cathedral is called the nave.
  • It is the main aisle or passageway that runs from the entrance of the cathedral all the way to the altar.
  • The nave is usually flanked by side aisles that are separated by rows of columns or pillars.

The nave serves many different purposes within the cathedral and is an important part of the overall design. At a functional level, the nave provides a wide and open space for large groups of people to gather for worship and other religious ceremonies. At a symbolic level, the nave represents the spiritual journey that worshipers must undertake in order to reach the altar and connect with their faith.

One of the most impressive features of the nave is its height. Gothic cathedrals were designed to reach up to the heavens, and the nave is often the tallest part of the structure. This height was meant to inspire wonder and awe in those who entered the cathedral and to serve as a reminder of the power and majesty of God.

Nave Features: Description:
Columns and Pillars The nave is often supported by rows of columns or pillars that are carved with intricate designs and decorations.
Stone Vaulted Ceilings The ceiling of the nave is often arched and covered in elaborate stone vaulting that creates a dramatic effect.
Stained Glass Windows The walls of the nave are often lined with large stained glass windows that depict scenes from the Bible or other religious iconography.

Overall, the nave is a spectacular and impressive feature of Gothic cathedrals that serves both functional and symbolic purposes. Its design, height, and ornamentation all contribute to the grandeur and majesty of these magnificent structures.


The nave is the central space of a cathedral, which extends from the entrance to the altar. It is usually the largest part of the interior of the church and is often called the “body” of the church. The word “nave” comes from the Latin word “navis,” which means “ship,” as the structure of the nave is often compared to the hull of a ship.

  • The nave is usually flanked by aisles on either side.
  • The ceilings of the nave are usually higher than those of the aisles.
  • Many cathedrals have large stained glass windows along the walls of the nave.

Throughout history, the nave has served as a gathering place for the congregation. It was specifically designed to accommodate the large numbers of people who would attend church services. In fact, some cathedrals could hold up to 10,000 people in their naves.

The layout and design of the nave is often dependent on the historical period during which the cathedral was built. Early Christian churches usually had simple, rectangular-shaped naves, while Gothic cathedrals had more intricate designs with elaborate columns and intricate vaulted ceilings.

The floor of the nave often contains important burial tombs and memorials to people who were important to the history of the church or the local community. In some cases, these tombs are located directly below the central altar, which is situated at the end of the nave.

Cathedral Nave Length Nave Width
St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City 211.5m 46.8m
Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris 130m 48m
Westminster Abbey, London 61m 10m

Overall, the nave serves as the centerpiece of the cathedral. It is the space where people gather to worship, to listen to sermons, and to reflect on the history and traditions of their faith. Its design and decoration are meant to inspire awe and reverence in all who enter.


The transept is the central space that runs perpendicular to the nave in a cruciform (cross-shaped) cathedral. It is sometimes referred to as the “crossing” since it is where the nave and the choir intersect.

  • In Gothic cathedrals, the transept often has its own vaulted roof, allowing for additional height and light to enter the space.
  • The transept may contain additional chapels or altars dedicated to specific saints or events.
  • Some transepts have a large central tower or lantern, which serves to bring light into the space and draw attention to the center of the cathedral.

The transept can be considered the heart of the cathedral, as it is where the different arms of the cross meet and intersect. It also serves as a space for the congregation to gather during certain parts of the liturgy, such as the veneration of the cross on Good Friday.

Some famous transepts: Location:
Transept of Notre-Dame de Paris Paris, France
Transept of Westminster Abbey London, England
Transept of St. Peter’s Basilica Vatican City

The transept is an important architectural feature in the design of a cathedral, providing both function and beauty. Visitors to these impressive structures may find themselves drawn to the center of the cross, where the transept serves as a visual and spiritual anchor.


The crossing is the central space of a cathedral, where the nave, choir, and transepts intersect. It is often considered the heart of the building, both physically and symbolically, and is typically marked by a dome, tower, or lantern. The crossing represents the unity of the church and its various parts, as well as the connection between heaven and earth.

  • The crossing is usually located near the nave, which is the main area for congregational worship. This placement helps to emphasize the importance of the connection between the church hierarchy and the congregation.
  • The choir and transepts, which converge at the crossing, are typically used for choral and liturgical performances, respectively. This arrangement allows the choir and transepts to contribute to the overall aesthetic and spiritual atmosphere of the cathedral.
  • The crossing is often used as a gathering place for processions and other ceremonial events. The height and architectural features of the crossing make it an ideal location for highlighting the grandeur and majesty of religious ceremonies.

The crossing is also sometimes referred to as the “quadrangle” because of its square shape. This shape has important symbolic significance, as it represents balance and symmetry in religious architecture. The crossing is often decorated with elaborate ornamentation and artwork, such as frescoes or mosaics, which serve to enhance its spiritual significance.

A notable example of a cathedral with an impressive crossing is St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, which features a massive dome that dominates the central space. The crossing of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is another well-known example, with its striking wrought-iron screens and intricate stone carvings.

Cathedral Location Notable Features
St. Peter’s Basilica Rome, Italy Massive dome, intricate artwork
St. Paul’s Cathedral London, England Wrought-iron screens, stone carvings
Notre-Dame Cathedral Paris, France Flying buttresses, stained glass windows

In conclusion, the crossing is a prominent feature in the design of most cathedrals. As the central space where the nave, choir, and transepts converge, it serves as a visual and symbolic representation of the unity and connection of various parts of the church. Its impressive size and architectural features also make it an ideal location for ceremonies and celebrations, emphasizing the importance of ritual within religious worship.


The central space of a cathedral is often dominated by the altar, which is the focal point of the entire building. The altar is a sacred table used for religious rituals and sacrifices. In a cathedral, it is usually located at the east end of the building, and it typically faces towards the rising sun.

  • Historically, altars were made of stone or wood, but many modern altars are simpler in design and made of materials like marble, metal, or glass.
  • The altar is typically adorned with various religious items, like crucifixes, candles, or statues of saints.
  • In some cathedrals, the altar is placed on an elevated platform called a sanctuary, which can only be entered by clergy members or other authorized individuals.

During a religious service, the altar is used for a variety of rituals and acts, including:

  • Mass: The most important religious service in the Catholic Church, which involves the consecration of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
  • Communion: A ritual in which congregants receive a small piece of bread and a sip of wine, which represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
  • Baptism: A Christian sacrament that involves the purification and initiation of a new member into the church.

Altars can vary greatly in size and design, but they are always considered to be sacred spaces in a cathedral. Below is a table showcasing a few famous cathedrals and their respective altars:

Cathedral Altar Description
Notre-Dame de Paris A large stone altar featuring intricate carvings and an ornate canopy.
St. Peter’s Basilica A bronze altar designed by Bernini, featuring scenes from the life of Jesus Christ.
Westminster Abbey An elegant marble altar located in the center of the Quire, which is used for choral services.

Whether simple or ornate, the altar serves as the symbolic heart of a cathedral, embodying the spiritual essence of the building and the religious community that inhabits it.


In a cathedral, the central space where choir is held typically refers to the area where the choir of singers and musicians perform during religious services. The choir area in a cathedral, which is also known as the chancel, is usually located at the eastern end of the building and separated from the nave by a high screen or railings.

  • The term “choir” can also refer to the group of trained singers who are often professional musicians and perform regularly in the cathedral.
  • The choir area usually includes a large platform, often several steps above the level of the nave, where the choirs stand and perform. This is often elaborately decorated with carvings, sculptures and stained glass windows to create a solemn and awe-inspiring atmosphere.
  • The choir area is often the most beautiful and ornate part of the cathedral, with intricate carvings, sculptures, and stained glass windows decorating the area.

The word “choir” comes from the Latin word “chorus,” which originally meant a group of dancers and singers who performed together. The term evolved over time to refer specifically to a group of singers who performed in a religious context. In a cathedral, the choir plays an important role in leading the congregation in worship and creating a truly awe-inspiring atmosphere.

The choir area often includes a number of different elements to enhance the singing and musical experience. These may include:

Element Description
Organ A large pipe organ is often installed in the choir area to accompany the singing and enhance the atmosphere. The organ may be situated above or behind the choirs and may include thousands of pipes and other intricate features.
Pulpit A raised platform where the clergy deliver sermons and speeches during religious services. The pulpit is often located on one side of the choir area and may be ornately decorated to match the other elements of the cathedral.
Altar A central part of the choir area, the altar is where the clergy perform the Communion and other religious rituals. The altar is often elaborately decorated with a variety of religious symbols, paintings and sculptures.
Choir stalls The seats where the choirs sit during services, choir stalls are often elaborately decorated and may include intricate carvings and sculptures. The stalls are often arranged in a semi-circle or other shape to facilitate the singing and create a sense of unity among the choir members.

Overall, the choir area is an essential part of any cathedral and plays an important role in creating a sense of awe and reverence among the congregation. From the soaring voices of the choir to the intricate decorations and art, the choir area is a true masterpiece of architecture and beauty.

FAQs about what is the central space of a cathedral called

Q: What is the central space of a cathedral called?
A: The central space of a cathedral is called the nave.

Q: Why is it called the nave?
A: The word “nave” comes from the Latin word “navis,” which means ship. The nave of a cathedral is often compared to the hull of a ship because of its shape.

Q: What is the purpose of the nave?
A: The nave is the main gathering space in a cathedral where the congregation comes together for worship.

Q: How is the nave different from the transept?
A: The nave is the central longitudinal space of the cathedral, while the transept is the perpendicular space that intersects the nave. The transept creates the cruciform shape of the cathedral.

Q: What is the length of the nave?
A: The length of a nave varies depending on the size of the cathedral. Some naves can be as short as 40 feet, while others can be as long as 500 feet.

Q: What is the height of the nave?
A: The height of the nave also varies depending on the size of the cathedral. Some naves can be as short as 30 feet, while others can be as tall as 100 feet.

Q: What is the architecture style of naves?
A: The architecture style of naves varies depending on the era in which the cathedral was built. Some naves are Romanesque, while others are Gothic.

Closing thoughts

Now that you know what the central space of a cathedral is called, you can explore the beauty of naves in cathedrals around the world. From the soaring heights of Gothic naves to the earthy simplicity of Romanesque naves, the nave is a crucial part of a cathedral’s architecture and history. Thanks for reading, and we hope to see you again soon!