Vocabulary —Narthex

The narthex is that portion of a church building between the outside door and the entrance to the Sanctuary. The Narthex provides a little separation from the outside world and serves as a meeting area and an information hub. Displays and posters are ubiquitous and the Narthex is full of information about God and the church. 

People entering and greeting in the entrance (narthex) at Mt. Olive
Greeters welcoming people entering Mt. Olive’s Narthex from the parking lot before moving into the Sanctuary for Sunday morning worship.
Entry

The Narthex is the entry space to enter the Sanctuary for worship. It is a space where all the worshipers gather together before and after service.  In the early days of the Church, it was a ‘waiting area’ for catechumens and penitents. Today it serves as gathering space as well as the entrance and exit to the building.

Information Center

Quite aside from being the only the place to greet the minister and pick up a bulletin, the Narthex groups the congregation and is the ideal place to show the service aspects of a church.

With the congregation moving through the space both entering and leaving, there is an ideal place to reach out through posters or personal contact for upcoming events, fundraisers, or whatever is active. The Narthex is an information center. It is a place for the public statement of a church.

Narthex Historically

The purpose of the narthex was to allow those not eligible for admittance into the general congregation (particularly catechumens and penitents) to hear and partake in the service. The narthex would often include a baptismal font so that infants or adults could be baptized there before entering the sanctuary or main body of the church, and to remind other believers of their baptisms as they gathered to worship.

Traditions

Later reforms removed the requirement to exclude people from services who were not full members of the congregation, which in some traditions obviated the need for the narthex. Church architects continued, however, to build a room before the entrance of the sanctuary. Some traditions still call this area the narthex as it represents the point of entry into the church, even though now everyone is admitted to the main body of the church itself.

Other denominations may also call the entry area a FoyerGathering Space, or a Vestibule.

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