Graphical Construction Glossary >> Roofs and roofing. >> Finial

1.)In architecture, a pure decoration or embellishment to the high points of a building.
2.) The top, round cap to flagpoles.
3.) Non construction related - Probably the most use it gets today is in the soft furnishing sections of stores, it is a name for the moulded caps to curtain rail ends.

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A finial in architecture.

Three wrought iron finials
A 1920's house with finials on the peak of each gable.  Quite often as shown here they are fixed at the top of a gable.

At first glance you may be forgiven for thinking that the embellishments shown on the roofs above are Crosses.

While they certainly do adorn many churches and from what I can gather they first appeared on the scene in the Gothic era, the close up under shows that they are indeed just a decoration.

a finial on the apex of a gable roof
A close up shows it to be a wrought iron decoration.
an old copper sheathed roof
They are used extensively to provide the finishing touches on many pyramid style roofs.  This one sheathed in copper.
Photo thanks to Kevin Rosseel and
wrought iron finial
Another much older wrought iron one.
Photo again, thanks to Kevin Rosseel and

a modern finial
A quite recent building sporting a finial to a small gable.

This last photo, and the one that gave me the idea for this page, is of a quite new building that the architect decided to embellish in the traditional way but a simpler touch.

A touch like this in my opinion adds to the visual appeal of a building.

All to often we have to settle for TV aerials and satellite dishes

a terra cotta finial
A curious terracotta finial to a tile roof.

It seem to me that this custom could easily go back to pre Christian times.

We have a tradition in the building trades of what is known as a topping out ceremony.  In older times when the last piece of masonry was laid at the top, the highest point, it was customary to have a celebration.
On large jobs today it is done when the last pour of concrete is done.  Usually the owner shows his thanks to the crew by putting on drinks etc.

Along with the celebration, tradition has it that some sort of tree is hoisted to the highest point of the structure.  What the significance of the tree is or it's origin I don't know.

What I do know is that it still goes on today in all sizes of jobs.  I have seen many times roofing carpenters nail a branch of a tree with plenty green leaves on it, to the apex of a house roof, in just about the same place that a finial would go.

These guys were mainly Greek migrants, but also I have seen Scandinavian do it also.  When asked why the simple answer is "because it's tradition".

Looking at a few of my old text books and other sources, many finials are foliage based, which makes me wonder if they are the builder's way of fixing a permanent record of the topping out?

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