Tabernacle (Architecture) - Encyclopedia

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TABERNACLE, as a general term in architecture, a species of niche or recess in which an image may be placed. In Norman work there are but few remains, and these generally over doorways. They are shallow and comparatively plain, and the figures are often only in low relief, and not detached statues. In Early English work they are deeper, and instead of simple arches there is often a canopy over the figure, which was placed on a small, low pedestal. Later in the style the heads of the tabernacles became cusped, either as trefoils or cinquefoils, and they are often placed in pairs side by side, or in ranges, as at Wells cathedral. Decorated tabernacles are still deeper and more ornamented, the heads are sometimes richly cusped and surmounted with crocketed gables, as at York, or with projecting canopies, very much like the arcade at Lichfield. In this case the under side of the canopy is carved to imitate groined ribs, and the figures stand either on high pedestals, or on corbels. Perpendicular tabernacles possess much the same features, but the work is generally more elaborate (see Corbel, Canopy, Niche, &c.). The word tabernacle is also often used for the receptacle for relics, which was often made in the form of a small house or church (see Shrine). The term "tabernacle work" is given, in architecture, to the richly sculptured tracery, similar to that employed on the upper part of a tabernacle, decorated with canopied niches which contain statues. The Eleanor crosses in England are enriched with tabernacle work over the niches, as also the chapels of Bishops Nicholas West (1461-1533), and John Alcock (1430-1500) in Ely cathedral, both dating from the beginning of the 16th century.

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