Plan of a large Latin cross church with nave highlighted
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Strict definition
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Broader definition
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The nave is the central part of a Christian church, used by the congregation. It stretches from the (normally western) main entrance or rear wall, to the transepts, or in a church without transepts, to the chancel. If a church contains side aisles, the term nave strictly applies only to the central aisle. Until the Protestant Reformation during the 16th century, the nave was often separated from the choir and clergy by a screen,[1] known variously as a rood screen, a chancel screen, or a choir screen.[2] Maintaining the nave was traditionally the responsibility of the parishioners.[3]

Nave is derived from the Latin navis, meaning “ship”, perhaps in reference to the Barque of St PeterAn ancient Christian symbol for the Church,, the first pope, or Noah’s Ark; indeed, many naves are shaped like upside-down boats. Until the Reformation, when very long sermons became the norm, naves did not contain pews for the congregation to sit on. Instead there were stone benches set into the wall, which is the origin of the saying “the weakest go to the wall”.[4]

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Bibliography


Curl, J. S., & Wilson, S. (2015). nave. In A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199674985.001.0001/acref-9780199674985-e-3071?rskey=U5q9Uj&result=3
Curl, J. S., & Wilson, S. (2015). screen. In A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199674985.001.0001/acref-9780199674985-e-4188#
Darvill, T. (2009). nave. In Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology (online). https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199534043.001.0001/acref-9780199534043-e-2712?rskey=U5q9Uj&result=4