What is an aisle?
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What is an Aisle?

Aisle - Abbaye aux Dames
Side aisle of the Abbaye aux Dames
(Caen, 1050 AD)

An aisle (you pronounce it EYE-yull) is the part of a Roman basilica or a medieval Christian church that goes down the side of the nave, between the columns and the wall.

Usually people stood mainly in the nave, and they used the aisles for walking around, so they wouldn't disturb the people who were participating in the Mass. Sometimes there were people selling snacks or souvenirs in the aisles, too. On a holiday if the church was very crowded, people would stand in the aisles, too.

Chartres floor plan
Floor plan of Chartres Cathedral

Here is a floor plan of Chartres Cathedral, looking down at the church as if you were floating over it. You can see the two rows of columns, and the side aisles, and the apse at the other end.

Some big churches had double aisles - two aisles next to each other, with a row of columns separating them. Check out a church with double aisles.

Bibliography and further reading:

Arches to Zigzags: An Architecture ABC, by Michael J. Crosbie (2000). Shows what an arch is, or a gable, or an eave. For younger kids.

Eyewitness: Building, by Philip Wilkinson, Dave King, and Geoff Dann (2000). Lavishly illustrated, like other Eyewitness books for kids, and with good explanations of most architectural terms.

City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction, by David Macaulay (1983).

What's an Apse?
What's a Nave?
What's a transept?
What's a basilica?
What's a cathedral?
Romanesque architecture
Gothic architecture
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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