Last edited 08 Feb 2021


A triple-apsed, polygonal termination of a church in Tredos.

Apses were first used in pre-Christian Roman architecture, often as a niche to contain the statue of a deity. They were also used in the thermae – the large bath complexes of imperial Rome.

From the fourth century onwards in Christian architecture, the basilica (an important church with rectangular plan) would sometimes be terminated at one end (normally the liturgical east end) with an apse – a semi-circular or polygonal recess. Sometimes the apse would be topped by a hemi-spherical or quarter dome that would often be vaulted on the inside. However, the roof might also have been flat or sloping.

The use of the apse would progress in Christian religious architecture as a single or multiple termination for naves, transepts or aisles.

Apses were to become common in Byzantine architecture, as well as in France, Germany and Italy. In a cruciform church or cathedral plan, whether in Western Romanesque or Gothic, apses would later be used to terminate the transepts and nave whether as single or multiple-apsed ends. They could also be used as a chapel or part of the chancel.

In England, apses were sometimes added as semi-circular forms applied to the east end of Romanesque churches. This changed mostly to a polygonal form during the Gothic period.

Apses underwent a revival during the Victorian period with its Greek-, Roman- and Gothic-revival periods.

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