Plan of a large Latin cross church with chancel highlighted
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Strict definition
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Broader definition
Wikimedia Commons

The chancel is the part of a Christian church used by the clergy and others officiating at a service. Usually situated at the eastern end of the church, it houses the altar and perhaps the choir.[1] The part of the chancel housing the altar is known as the presbyteryPart of the chancel in a Christian church housing the altar, or a residence for Roman Catholic priests..[2]

In smaller churches the chancel may be separated from the naveCentral part of a church, used by the laiety., the part of the building used by the congregation, by a chancel arch, altar rails, or a series of steps. In larger churches and cathedrals, particularly those with a monastic past, the demarcation between nave and chancel may be a stone screen with a central door, known as a pulpitum,[3] perhaps supporting a gallery or loft.[1]

The term chancel is derived from the Latin cancellus, meaning a screen.[3]



Clarke, Michael. “Presbytery.” Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms, Online, Oxford University Press, 2010,
Curl, James Stevens, and Susan Wilson. “Pulpitum.” The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture, Online, Oxford University Press, 2021,
Jones, Tom Devonshire, et al., editors. “Chancel.” Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art and Architecture, Online, Oxford University Press,