AskDefine | Define chancel

Dictionary Definition

chancel n : area around the altar of a church for the clergy and choir; often enclosed by a lattice or railing [syn: sanctuary, bema]

User Contributed Dictionary




  • RP: /ˈtʃɑːnsəl/
  • US: /ˈtʃænsəl/


  1. The space around the altar in a church, often enclosed, for use by the clergy and the choir. In medieval cathedrals the chancel was usually enclosed or blocked off from the nave by an altar screen.



space around the altar in a church

Extensive Definition

In Protestant churches the chancel is the space around the altar at the east end, often enclosed, for use by the clergy. It may terminate in an apse. In Roman Catholic and various Orthodox churches, this part of the church is more commonly referred to as the sanctuary or presbytery.
Following the exposition of the doctrine of transubstantiation at the fourth Lateran Council of 1215, clergy were required to ensure that the blessed sacrament was to be kept protected from irreverant access or abuse; and accordingly the area of the church used by the lay congregation was to be screened off from that used by the clergy. This distinction was enforced by the development of canon law, by which the construction and upkeep of the chancel was the responsibility of the rector, whereas the construction and upkeep of the nave was the responsibility of the parish. The distinction, both legal and ritual, between nave and chancel is maintained in the Book of Common Prayer.
As well as the altar, the chancel usually houses the credence table, and seats for officiating and assisting ministers. In Anglican churches it will usually include the choir. In some traditions, the pulpit and lectern may be in the chancel, but in others these functions are considered proper to the nave.
The chancel is typically raised somewhat above the level of the nave, where the congregation gathers. It may be separated from the nave by a rood screen, a rail, or an open space. In some churches, the congregation may gather on three sides or in a semicircle around the chancel.
The word "chancel" derives from the French usage of chancel from a Late Latin word cancelli meaning "lattice". This refers to the rood screen.


chancel in Polish: Prezbiterium
chancel in Russian: Алтарь

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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