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What is a Lancet Window? - Definition & Architecture

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever seen a towering Gothic church with tall, narrow windows? They might have been lancet windows. In this lesson, learn about lancet windows and how they are used in architecture.

What Is a Lancet Window?

If you've ever visited a large Gothic church or cathedral, have you taken time to look at the windows? If so, you might have seen the type of window known as a lancet window.

Lancet windows are very high narrow windows, always much taller than they are wide. They're topped with sharp acute arches, that is arches formed by an angle tighter and narrower than 90 degrees. That arch, which resembles the point of a spear, is called a lancet. These windows get their name from the image and idea of a lance.

An example of a church structure with lancet widows is Guildhall Museum or Greyfriars Chapel in Chichester, England. The structure is now a museum, but it was built in the 13th century as part of a Franciscan friary, a place where monks live and pray.

Guildhall Museum in England includes a wonderful example of a wall dominated by lancet windows
Greyfriars Chapel

How Are Lancet Windows Used in Architecture?

During the 13th century, lancet windows developed as an element of Gothic architecture. In Gothic architecture, which was commonly used for churches and large religious structures, the emphasis was on soaring height. Greater and greater heights were achieved thanks to advances in building processes and in building technology, such as flying buttresses, vaulted ceilings and tracery for supporting windows. As for lancet windows, a few early examples appeared in France, but they were especially popular in England for Gothic cathedrals and other religious structures. And with their height, lancet windows reinforce the sensation of the structure pointing skyward.

A good example of lancet windows used in English Gothic architecture can be found by looking at the west front of Kings College Chapel in Cambridge, which was built between 1446 and 1536.

Kings College Chapel in Cambridge
Kings College Chapel

In Gothic architecture, a wall might have one lancet window or, as seen in the examples of Guildhall Museum and King's College Chapel, it could have groups of them. For the latter, the windows might be separated by tall narrow architectural elements called mullions, which were often made of stone or metal. Mullions also served as framework for the windows.

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