is an architectural term derived from the French, and designates a cavity, hollow, or recess in a wall or buttress for an image, vase, or other erect ornament. Among the ancients niches were sometimes square, but oftener semicircular at the back, and terminated in a half-dome at the top; occasionally small pediments were formed over them, which were supported on consoles, or small columns or pilasters placed at the sides of the niches, but they were frequently left plain, or ornamented only with a few moldings. In the Middle Age architecture niches (often called tabernacles) were extensively used, especially in ecclesiastical buildings, for statues.
The figures in the Early English style were sometimes set on small pedestals, and canopies were not unfrequently used over the heads; they were often placed in suites or arranged in pairs, under a larger arch; when in suites, they were very commonly separated by single shafts: in other cases the sides were usually molded in a similar way to windows; the arches of the heads were either cinque-foiled, trefoiled, or plain, and when canopies were used they were generally made to project: good examples of the 13th century are to be seen on the west front of the cathedral at Wells.
In the Decorated style they very frequently had ogee canopies over them, which were sometimes placed flat against the wall and sometimes bowed out in the form of an ogee; triangular canopies were also common: several kinds of projecting canopies were likewise used, especially when the niches were placed separately. In the tops of buttresses niches were sometimes made to occupy the whole breadth of the buttress, so as to be entirely open on three sides, with small piers at the front angles; pedestals were very common, particularly in niches with projecting canopies, and in such cases were either carried on corbels or rose from other projecting supports below; sometimes corbels were used instead of pedestals.
In the Perpendicular style the paneling, which was so profusely introduced, was sufficiently recessed to receive figures, and these varied considerably in form; but of the more legitimate niches the general character did not differ very materially from those of the preceding style. In plan the canopies were usually half an octagon or hexagon, with small pendants and pinnacles at the angles; and crockets, finials, and other enrichments were often introduced in great profusion; buttresses, surmounted with pinnacles, were also very frequently placed at the side of niches in this style.