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Fan vaulting over the nave at Bath Abbey, Bath, England. Made from local Bath stone, this is a Victorian restoration (in the 1860s) of the original roof of 1608.
Fan vaulting (detail) in Peterborough Cathedral

A fan vault is a form of vault used in the Gothic style, in which the ribs are all of the same curve and spaced equidistantly, in a manner resembling a fan. The initiation and propagation of this design element is strongly associated with England.

The earliest example, dating from about the year 1351,[1] may be seen in the cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral.[2] The largest fan vault in the world can be found in King's College Chapel, Cambridge.

The fan vault is peculiar to England. The lierne vault of the cathedral of Barbastro in northern Spain closely resembles a fan vault, but it does not form a perfect conoid. Harvey (1978) suggests Catherine of Aragon as a possible source of English influence in Aragon.[3]

Birth of the fan vaultEdit

The fan vault is attributed to development in Gloucester between 1351 and 1377,[3] with the earliest known surviving example being the east cloister walk of Gloucester Cathedral.[4] Harvey (1978) hypothesises that the east cloister at Gloucester was finished under Thomas de Cantebrugge from the hamlet of Cambridge, Gloucestershire, who left in 1364 to work on the chapter house at Hereford Cathedral (also thought to have been fan vaulted on the basis of a drawing by William Stukeley).[5] The other three parts of the cloister at Gloucester were begun in 1381, possibly under Robert Lesyngham.

Other examples of early fan vaults exist around Gloucester, implying the activity of several 14th century master masons in this region, who really created the fan vault and experimented with forms of its early use.


The ribs of a fan vault are of equal curvature and rotated at equal distances around a central (vertical) axis, forming the conoid shape which gives rise to the name. In between sequences of conoids, flat central spandrels fill the space. According to Leedy (1980), the fan vault was developed in England (as opposed to France and other centres of gothic architecture) due to the manner in which English rib vaults were normally constructed.[6] In an English rib vault, the courses are laid perpendicular to the rib while in France they are laid perpendicular to the wall.

Buildings with fan vaultingEdit

Medieval and Early ModernEdit

King's College Chapel, Cambridge, the world's largest fan vault, built from 1512 to 1515 by John Wastell, with William Vertue.
Pendant fan vault of the Henry VII chapel at Westminster Abbey.
Bath Abbey, South aisle
Fan vaulting in the staircase at Christ Church, Oxford
Canterbury Cathedral, fan vaulting of the crossing
Chantry Chapel of Henry Beaufort, Winchester Cathedral

Gothic RevivalEdit

Fan vaulting as used in Gothic Revival architecture: Confederation Hall, Centre Block, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Britannia: Architecture of Gloucester Cathedral
  2. ^ "Pevsner Architectural Guides fan vault design". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2006-11-17.
  3. ^ a b c d e Harvey, John (1978). The Perpendicular Style. London: Batsford.
  4. ^ David Verey, Gloucestershire, Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, USA (1976)
  5. ^ Aylmer, Gerald (2000). Hereford Cathedral : A History. The Hambledon Press. p. 62.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Leedy, Walter (1980). Fan Vaulting: A Study of Form, Technology and Meaning. Arts+Architecture.
  7. ^ Art and Architecture fan vault example from Henry VII Lady Chapel
  8. ^ Teller, Matthew (2004). The Rough Guide to Britain. Rough Guides. p. 114. ISBN 978-1-84353-301-6. Retrieved 7 August 2014.
  9. ^ Westminster Palace Archived 2011-07-10 at the Wayback Machine - English Heritage images
  10. ^ Harkness Tower Memorial Hall