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Architectural Trefoil

Trefoil (from Latin trifolium, "three-leaved plant", French trèfle, German Dreiblatt and Dreiblattbogen) is a graphic form composed of the outline of three overlapping rings used in architecture and Christian symbolism. The term is also applied to other symbols of three-fold shape.



Trefoil is a term in Gothic architecture given to the ornamental foliation or cusping introduced in the heads of window-lights, tracery, panellings, etc., in which the center takes the form of a three-lobed leaf (formed from three partially-overlapping circles). One of the earliest examples is in the plate tracery at Winchester (1222 - 1235). The fourfold version of an architectural trefoil is a quatrefoil.

A trefoil combined with an equilateral triangle was also a moderately common symbol of the Christian Trinity during the late Middle Ages in some parts of Europe. Two forms of this are shown below:

A dove, symbolic of the Holy Spirit, is sometimes depicted within the outlined form of the trefoil combined with a triangle.


The heraldic trefoil is a stylized clover. It should not be confused with the figure named in French heraldry tiercefeuille, which is a stylized flower with three petals. It differs from the heraldic trefoil in being not slipped. It could be translated as threefoil.[1]

Other uses


  • The symbol for recycling (see Recycling symbol).
  • The symbol indicating radioactivity.
  • One particular stylized form of the heraldic trefoil is used as the main element in the logo of most Girl Guide and Girl Scout organizations and is one of the more popular Girl Scout Cookies. For Girl Scouts, the three trefoil leaves represent the three-fold promise: "To serve God and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout law."
  • The logo of Adidas.


The green trefoil is registered under international trade-mark conventions as a symbol of Ireland. Shamrocks do not appear on Irish coins, bank-notes or postage stamps, as a rule.

Other meanings

  • A trefoil formation is a cross-sectional arrangement of electrical cables that minimises electrodynamic forces during fault conditions.

See also


  1. ^ "Online Encyclopedia of Western Signs and Ideograms - Symbol 24:51". 1997 – 2006. Retrieved 5 January 2010.  . The French terms quartefeuille and quintefeuille are translated as quatrefoils and cinquefoils.

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

TREFOIL (Lat. trifolium, three-leaved plant, Fr. trefle, Ger. Dreiblatl and Dreiblattbogen), the term in Gothic architecture given to the ornamental foliation or cusping introduced in the heads of window-lights, tracery, panellings, &c., in which the centre takes the form of a three-lobed leaf, one of the earliest examples being in the plate tracery at Winchester (1222-1235);1235); See Quatrefoil.

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