Dictionary and Journal

Apse Dictionary Definitions

Apse is an architectural concept that can be mentioned in feminine (the apse) or masculine (the apse). The notion allows us to name the semicircular and vaulted sector of a temple that enables the installation of the presbytery and the altar.

The apse, with a polygonal or semicircular plan, is located at the head of the church, according to Digopaul. Its origins go back to the Roman Empire: it is the temples of the time, figures of the deities were placed in niches that functioned as apses. Then, in the basilicas, the space with seats began to be called the apse, where the magistrate’s chair was installed in front of the altar.

Over the years, most of the churches began to give preponderance to the apse, integrating it into the presbytery (a prominent space that can be used for the choir) and the altar (the structure where the worship takes place, being the setting for offerings and of other rites).

Although there are multiple apse formats, it is usually located at the head of the main nave and protrudes from the structure, with a domed roof. The main apse may be connected to another adjoining structure, with similar but smaller characteristics, which is called the absidiolus.

There are several apses that, due to their characteristics, became well known. The Apse of the Miracles, for example, is the only standing structure of a 13th-century temple that stands in Talamanca de Jarama (Spain). The Cathedral of El Salvador in Zaragoza, called La Seo, has several apses of architectural and historical relevance.

In the same way, we cannot overlook the spectacular apse that San Clemente de Tahull has, in the Boí valley. It has managed to become a landmark in the history of art because it has some amazing Romanesque paintings, which have come to be considered a true gem of the Romanesque of the entire European continent. Specifically, they come to represent different biblical scenes.

And to these historical buildings we could highlight many others in which the apses are a reference:
-The Parish Church of San Julián and Santa Basilia, in the Palentino municipality of Villaconancio. It currently preserves part of its initial structure, being relevant the fact that it was erected in the 12th century. Specifically, it preserves its double apse, which has a marked Romanesque style.
-The Parish Church or Collegiate Church of San Salvador in the town of San Salvador de Cantamuda (Palencia). It was set up in the 12th century, by the impulse and determination of the Countess of Castilla, Doña María Elvira. It stands out because it has three apses: the central one, where both prismatic pilasters and thin twin columns take relevance; the south, which has two windows, and the north, which has a single window.
-The Church of San Miguel, located in the town of Olmedo (Valladolid). From this temple, which seems to have its origin in the 12th century, its apse stands out due to the fact that it is an authentic jewel in the Mudejar Romanesque style.