Glossary

This is an expanding list so please check back or let us know if there is something you cannot find or would like to see on here.


All | A Æ B C D E F G H J K L M N O P Q R S T V W
There are currently 110 terms in this directory
A

abbess
The female head of a Christian abbey or monastery [q.v.].

abbot
The male head of a Christian abbey or monastery [q.v.].

abhidharma
In a Buddhist [q.v.] context, annotations and discussions of the sutras [q.v.].It forms one of the three parts of the Buddhist Canon, the Tripiṭaka [q.v.].

Alsvin
In Norse mythology, one of the two horses that pulls the sun chariot across the sky. The other is Arvakr.

Ansgar
Ansgar (801–65) was Archbishop of Bremen and Hamburg in Germany who was known as ‘The Apostle of the North’ because of his missionary activities to convert northwestern Europe to Christianity.

Anthropomorphic
Giving human qualities to non-human entities such as gods and animals.

Apsaras
A Sanskrit term for female spirits of the sky, found in both Hinduism and Buddhism.

Arvakr
In Norse mythology, one of the two horses that pulls the sun chariot across the sky. The other is Alsvin.

Aśoka
Aśoka (r.c.268–c.232 BC) was king of the Mauryan empire (322–184 BC)  in south Asia. He promoted the spread of Buddhism in the empire and beyond.

Avalokiteśvara
The bodhisattva [q.v.] of compassion. Kannon in Japanese and Guaneum in Korean.

Æ

Æthelthryth
Æthelthryth (c.636–679), also known as Ethelreada, was daughter of an East Anglian king and became Abbess of the double monastery (monks and nuns) at Ely. Her sister, Seaxburh [q.v.], took over on her death.

B

Balthilde
Balthilde (c.626–680), possibly from East Anglia, married Clovis II, the King of Neustria and Burgundy (639–658), and was regent during the minority of her son.

Bishop
The senior priest in charge of the work of the Christian church across a set area, a diocese [q.v.].

Bodhisattva
A Buddhist who delays entry into nirvāṇa to stay in world of suffering to help other sentient beings.

Bracteate
A decorated gold disk worn as a pendant, interpreted as sun disks by some.

Buddha
In Buddhism, there are numerous buddhas—beings who have attained enlightenment—but the term often refers to the historical buddha, Śākyamuni [q.v.] or Siddhartha Gautama who originally established the teachings of Buddhism [q.v.].

Buddhism
The world's fourth-largest religion with over 520 million followers. It originated in northern India c. 2500 years ago and follows the teachings of the Buddha [q.v.].

C

Canonised
When someone is made into a Christian saint.

censer
A container for burning incense, used in both Buddhist and Christian rituals.

change ringing
A method of bell ringing developed in Britain in the 16th century when bells were hung so that they could turn full circle. This gave ringers control of their bell, which allowed sets of bells (rings) to be rung in a continuously changing pattern.

Chatra
A Sanskrit term meaning umbrella: In Buddhism [q.v.], a structure on top of stupas [q.v.] resembling tiered umbrellas. Thought to symbolize high rank and to honour and shelter the relics [q.v.].

Christ
The title given to Jesus of Nazareth [q.v.], the man believed by Christians to be the son of God who established the teachings of Christianity [q.v.].

Christianity
One of the world's largest religions. It originated in west Asia 2000 years ago and follows the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth [q.v.].

Christianization
The process of converting a person or group of people to Christianity.

Clergy
People ordained in Buddhism and Christianity, from monks/nuns to bishops.

Codex (plural 'codices')
The form of a book which has pages bound within a cover.

colophon
On manuscripts, a short note, often at the end, made by the scribe and giving information about the copying, sometimes with the date and their name.

Cuthbert
Cuthbert (c.634–687) was a Christian [q.v.] monk in northern England who held various posts, becoming Bishop [q.v.] of Lindisfarne in 684.

D

Diocese
A Christian term for a district under the care of a bishop [q.v.].

E

Empress Helena
Empress Helena (c.246– c.330) was the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine I (r.306–337), who converted to Christianity. She is known especially for her supposed discovery of the True Cross [q.v.].

Empress Kōken (孝謙天皇)
Abe (713–770), the daughter of the emperor, she reigned Japan twice, first as Empress Kōken (r. 749–58), the 46th ruler, then as Empress Shōtoku (称徳天皇, r.746–770), as the 48th ruler.  She was a supporter of Buddhism and responsible for commissioning the Million Dharani Stupas [EXH25].

Empress Shōtoku (称徳天皇)
See Empress Kōken.

Enamel
A decorative technique whereby silica and a fluxing agent coloured by metallic oxide or carbonate are fused to a metal surface by heat.

enlightenment
In Buddhism [q.v.], the state when an individual has paid off their karmic debt and is able to leave the world of suffering and enter nirvāṇa [q.v.].

F

Filigree
Thin gold or silver wire that has been fashioned into decoration.

Freyr
Also known as Frey, the god of fertility in Norse mythology [q.v.].

G

Garnet
A clear, dark-red semi-precious stone, often sourced from mines in south Asia.

Gasa
Korean, see kāṣāya

Gerd
In Norse mythology [q.v.], a being known as a jötunn [q.v.] who marries Freyr [q.v.].

Gospels
In a Christian [q.v.] context, used to refer to four sections of the New Testament [q.v.] written in the late 1st century telling of the life and words of Jesus [q.v.]. The naming of them using four of Jesus’s disciples, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, was given later.

H

Han empire (206 BC–AD 220)
An empire in China that expanded its territories into eastern Central Asia, the main land routes of the eastern Silk Road.

Hild
Hild (614–680) was Abbess of the double monastery (nuns and monks) at Whitby, then known as Streanaeshalch in northeastern England. We know about her life from Bede [q.v., EXH14]. She became a nun at 33 and founded the monastery in 657.

Hubert Walter
Hubert Walter (c. 1160–1205) was a royal advisor in England. He accompanied King Richard I’s army on the Third Crusade (1189–1192), the failed attempt to take Jerusalem from Salad al-Din [q.v.]. On return he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

J

Jesus of Nazareth
The man believed by Christians to be the son of God who established the teachings of Christianity [q.v.].

John
One of the twelve apostles of Jesus [q.v.] and known for his betrayal.

Jötunn
In Norse mythology [q.v.], types of beings who are not humans, gods, elves or dwarfs.

Judas
One of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ, Judas is known for betraying Jesus [q.v.].

K

Kami (神)
In traditional Japanese belief, gods, ancestral spirits, animals, and mythological deities who reside in the landscape, in rocks, trees, mountains and the sea. They are now worshipped as part of Shintoism [q.v.].

kāṣāya
A Sanskrit term used in Buddhism for the robes of a fully ordained monk or nun. Japanese: kesa (袈裟).

kesa (袈裟)
See kāṣāya.

Kushan empire (1st to 3rd century)
An empire which united much of Central Asia, facilitating trade and travel and the spread of Buddhism.

L

lapis
Lapis lazuli, a deep blue stone whose primary source is the mountains of Badakshan, in what is now eastern Afghanistan. Mined, traded and used for decoration across Afro-Eurasia from the 8th millennium BC. It was also ground and used as a pigment in Buddhist paintings in south and central Asia and, later, for Christian paintings in Europe.

Latin
The language spoken in classical times around Rome which became the dominant language of the Roman Empire [q.v.]. It was written in the Latin alphabet.

Literary Sinitic
The form of Chinese that was written in classical times and from which the Han empire (206 BC–AD 220) became the dominant written language of a succession of Chinese empires and kingdoms (there remained numerous spoken Chinese languages). It was written using a non-alphabetic script, usually referred to as Chinese characters.

Loki
A god of Norse mythology [q.v.].

Longinus
In Christian tradition, the Roman soldier who stabbed Jesus [q.v.] with a lance during his crucifixion.

M

Maniple
In a Christian context, an embroidered band of silk worn by clergy.

Martha
In Christian tradition, witness to Jesus's [q.v.] resurrection of her brother Lazarus.

Martyrdom
The execution or death of an individual for their faith, used in both Buddhism and Christianity.

martyrium (pl. martyria)
A church or shrine built over the tomb of a Christian [q.v.] martyr [q.v.].

Mary
In Christianity refers variously to the mother of Jesus [q.v.], often called the Virgin Mary [q.v.], to Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus's followers, or to the mother of James [q.v.]. The latter two are often depicted at Jesus's tomb.

Mauryan empire (322–184 BC)
An empire which, at its greatest extent, ruled much of south Asia.

Māyā
The birth mother of Siddhartha Gautama (the historical Buddha [q.v.]).

monastery
In both Buddhism and Christianity, a place of residence for monks or nuns. In Christianity, if headed by a Prior/Prioress it is referred to as a priory; if headed by an Abbot/Abbess, it is referred to as an Abbey.

N

Neolithic
A prehistorical period, ‘the new stone age’, variously starting at the end of the ninth millennium BC and beginning of the first millennium BC.

New Testament
In a Christian context, the second part of the Bible [q.v.], discussing the life and teachings of Jesus [q.v.] and written in a form of Greek.

nirvāṇa
In Buddhism [q.v.], the state of enlightenment [q.v.] contrasted with the world of suffering.

Norse
Used to refer to the Germanic peoples who settled in Scandinavia. Old Norse language emerged from the 8th century and was transcribed with a runic alphabet.

O

Odin
In Norse mythology [q.v.], the god of war and death. Known as Woden in Britain.

Old Testament
In a Christian context, the first part of the Bible [q.v.] based largely on the Hebrew Bible and written before Jesus [q.v.].

P

Pensive Bodhisattva
A form of portraying bodhisattvas [q.v.] with one foot on the floor and the other placed upon the opposite knee, while the finger of one hand rests against the cheek or head.

Peter
In Christianity [q.v.], one of the 12 disciples of Jesus [q.v.].

plainchant
Plainchant is a type of music used in Christian worship where religious texts are sung to a single unaccompanied line.

Polycarp
Polycarp (69–155) was Christian [q.v.] bishop (q.v.) of Smyrna in the eastern Mediterranean. According to later records, he died a martyr [q.v.], bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to consume his body.

Pontius Pilate
In Christianity [q.v.], the Roman Governor who gave the order for Jesus [q.v.] to be crucified.

Prince Shōtoku (聖徳太子)
Shōtoku Taishi (572–622) was son of the Japanese Emperor Yōmei (用明天皇, r. 585–587, 31st monarch) and was active in the spread of Buddhism [q.v.] in Japan.

Priory
In a Christian context, a monastery [q.v.] headed by a Prior or Prioress.

Q

Queen Consort Kōmyōshi (光明皇后) (701–760).

R

Ragnarök
In Norse mythology [q.v.], the end of the world, causing the death of the gods.

Reformation
A movement in 16th century Europe which challenged the Christian Catholic church and the authority of the pope, and led to the split into the Protestant and Catholic churches in western Europe. Forms of Protestantism were adopted in both Britain and Scandinavia.

relic
In Buddhism [q.v.] and Christianity [q.v.], an object associated with Buddha/Jesus and saints and monks. Includes their bodily parts.

reliquary
In Buddhism [q.v.] and Christianity [q.v.], a container for holding a relic [q.v.].

Ritual
A series of actions performed repetitively in the same way. This is often used in a religious sense, but rituals can be performed for non-religious reasons.

runes
Letters in related alphabets, known as runic alphabets, used to transcribe Germanic languages, including Old Norse, before Latin [q.v.] became more widely used.

Ś

Śakyamuni
‘The saint of the Sakyas’—in Buddhism [q.v.] one of the names of the historical buddhas [q.v.].

S

Salah al-Din
Salah al-Din (1137–97) was founder of Ayyubid dynasty (1171–1260) in north Africa and west Asia. In 1187 he conquered Jerusalem. He is often referred to in western sources as Saladin.

Ś

śarīra
'Body’ in Sanskrit, and used for the relics [q.v.] of the Buddha and of monks, but also for small bead-shaped objects that were said to be found among the ashes of spiritual masters and to be evidence of their enlightenment.

S

scriptorium (pl. scriptoria)
Latin, used to refer to the place of writing, often a room in a monastery where nuns and monks copied sacred texts.

Seaxburh
Seaxburh (7th c.) was daughter of an East Anglian king and sister of Æthelthryth [q.v.].

seiðkona
In Norse society, a sorceress or practitioner of seiðr or the highest type of magic.

Shinto (神道)
The indigenous religion of Japan which involves the worship of kami [q.v] in the landscape, in rocks, trees, mountains and the sea.

Sigyn
In Norse mythology [q.v.], a god who is wife of Loki [q.v.].

Sleipnir
In Norse mythology [q.v.], Odin's [q.v.] horse and son of Loki [q.v.]. Sleipnir has eight legs and runes [q.v.] etched on his teeth.

Sogdians
The Sogdians were a people speaking an east Iranian language who ruled a kingdom from the central Asian cities around Samarkand from the 6th century BC. They were known as merchants who traded from the Black Sea to China.

stave
On manuscript scrolls, a piece of wood held inside a fold of the paper at the start as strengthening.

Stele
A monumental stone or slab with inscribed ornamentation and/or text.

steppe
The geographic region of the world defined by semi-arid grassland and which consists of a band across much of central Eurasia extending from the Caucasus mountains to eastern Mongolia.

stupa
In Buddhism [q.v.], a building housing relics [q.v.] and often considered to be the embodiment of Buddha [q.v.].

sutra
In a Buddhist [q.v.] context, the lectures of the historical Buddha [q.v.]. One if the three parts of the Buddhist Canon, the Tripiṭaka [q.v.].

swastika
A symbol used in several cultures, including Buddhism, in the form of a cross with the ends bent at right-angles.

Synod of Whitby
The Synod or Council held by Christian leaders in 664 at Hild’s [q.v.] monastery [q.v.] at Whitby in northeast England. The Council decided to follow the customs of the Roman rather than the Celtic church.

T

Taboo
A topic considered to be offensive or embarrassing so it becomes prohibited to be referred to.

Thomas
One of the twelve disciples of Jesus [q.v.], Thomas is known for being sceptical of Jesus’s resurrection and demanding proof.

Thor
In Norse mythology [q.v.], god of thunder, storms, and agriculture. Thor wields a hammer and is the son of Odin [q.v.].

Tiw/Tyr
In Norse mythology [q.v.], god of war.

Tripiṭaka
Sanskrit for 'Three Baskets’ and, in Buddhism [q.v.], used for the Buddhist Canon, which consists of three sections.

True Cross
The cross on which Jesus was crucified, reported to have been discovered by Empress Helena [q.v.] in the 4th century. Thereafter, pieces of it were sought-after relics [q.v.].

V

vinaya
In a Buddhist [q.v.] context, the rules for monastic life. One if the three parts of the Buddhist Canon, the Tripiṭaka [q.v.].

Virgin Mary
In Christianity [q.v.], the mother of Jesus [q.v.] whose miraculous conception led to her being called the Virgin Mary.

W

woodblock printing
The form of printing used widely from the 7th/8th century in east Asia where a page of text was cut in reverse on a woodblock, which was then inked. A sheet of paper was placed on top and brushed to transfer the ink from the woodblock.