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Schematical illustration of a plan view of a cathedral.
Colored area: Nave
In Romanesque and Gothic Christian abbey, cathedral basilica and church architecture, the nave is the central approach to the high altar. "Nave" (Medieval Latin navis, "ship,") was probably suggested by the keel shape of its vaulting. The nave of a church, whether Romanesque, Gothic or Classical, extends from the entry — which may have a separate vestibule, the narthex — to the chancel and is flanked by lower aisles separated from the nave by an arcade. If the aisles are high and of a width comparable to the central nave, the structure is sometimes said to have three naves.

Though to a modern visitor the nave seems to be the principal part of a Gothic church, churches were sometimes built as funds became available, working outward from the liturgically essential sanctuary, and many were consecrated before their nave was completed. Many naves were not completed to the initial plan, as tastes changed, and some naves were never completed at all. In Gothic architecture, the precise number of arcaded bays in the nave was not a material concern.

The height of the nave provides space for clerestory windows above the aisle roofs, which give light to the interior, leaving the apse in shadow, as at the abbey of Saint-Georges-de-Boschervillemarker. The architectural antecedents of this construction lay in the secular Roman basilica, a kind of covered stoa sited adjacent to a forum, where magistrates met and public business was transacted.

In Romanesque constructions, where a gallery was required to allow passage above the aisles, an addition to the elevation of the nave was inserted, called a triforium. In later styles the triforium was eliminated, the aisles lowered and great expanses of stained glass took the place of the clerestory windows, as at Bath Abbey (illustration, left).
The crossing is the part of the nave that also belongs to the transepts that intersect its space. The crossing may be surmounted by a tower or spire, or by a dome in Eastern churches, a feature that was reintroduced to the West at the Renaissance, first in Filippo Brunelleschi's San Lorenzo (illustration right). Brunelleschi restored the original Roman form of the basilica and consciously revived Roman details, such as the flat coffered ceiling. Clerestory windows still light San Lorenzo's nave, setting apart in dimness the crossing, with its small dome. In other contexts, lanterns and openings above the transept might bathe the crossing in more light instead. The crossing may be further distinguished from the nave by the rhythm of its architecture: wider-spaced piers supporting the higher vaulting of the transepts.

The nave was the area reserved for the non-clergy (the "laity"), while the chancel and choir were reserved for the clergy, and a rood screen (cancellus) separated the sanctuary from the nave. Rood screens were swept away by Protestant reformers in the 16th century. Fixed pews in the nave are a comparatively modern, Protestant innovation. Screens were used to separate the more sacred areas of the cathedral and keep out the unwashed and unholy.

Record-holding church naves

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