Nave in Architecture: Definition & Overview

Instructor: Laurna Taylor

Laurna has taught Art History and Information Literacy and has a masters degree in leadership of educational organizations.

The nave is a central component of the church structure that has remained an important piece of religious architectural design for centuries. In this lesson, you will get to know more about the nave and the critical role that it plays in both ancient and modern religious architecture.

The Nave Defined

If you have ever observed a wedding in a Christian church, you likely saw the bridal party walk down the center of the nave. The nave is the central corridor or room of a Christian church that leads to the transept and the chancel where the clergy would be. While most everyone has heard of the arch and the dome, the nave (in addition to other architectural elements like the apse), is an important piece of the church layout due to the influence that it has on the overall appearance and use of the structure.

Designed for the People

Throughout history religious architecture has been a focus of both financial and cultural investment, allowing it to grow into an art form that has influenced many different empires. What makes the nave special as an architectural element is that it is designed for the use of everyday citizens, like you and me, within the church. The focus on catering to the people was important for the adoption of Christianity early on when the faith was gaining popularity.

Not only are naves often dramatically designed, with towering ceilings and ornate details, but they are often also built with acoustics in mind. Acoustics were carefully considered to ensure that choirs and clergy could be heard, even in the back of the seating area. At first the nave was considered to strictly be the aisle in the center of churches with a Latin cross design, but it evolved to include the entire central area, which can have many corridors, or very few, depending on the architectural style and time period.

Latin cross architectural layout with the nave highlighted

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