AskDefine | Define narthex

Dictionary Definition



1 portico at the west end of an early Christian basilica or church
2 a vestibule leading to the nave of a church

User Contributed Dictionary



From ‘giant fennel’, later ‘casket’ (modern Greek νάρθηκας).


  • (US) /ˈnaɹθɛks/
  • (UK) /ˈnɑːθɛks/


  1. A western vestibule leading to the nave in some (especially Orthodox) Christian churches.
    • 1942: we were in the antechamber, called the narthex, which runs across the front of any Byzantine church — Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (Canongate 2006, p. 637)

Extensive Definition

The narthex of a church is the entrance or lobby area, located at the end of the nave, at the far end from the church's main altar. Traditionally the narthex was a part of the church building, but was not considered part of the church proper. It was either an indoor area separated from the nave by a screen or rail, or an external structure such as a porch. 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 nave, and to remind other believers of their baptisms as they gathered to worship. The narthex is thus traditionally a place of penitence, and in Eastern Christianity some penitential services, such as the Little Hours during Holy Week are celebrated there, rather than in the main body of the church. In the Russian Orthodox Church funerals are traditionally held in the narthex.
Later reforms removed the requirement to exclude people from services who were not full members of the congregation, which in some traditions obviated the narthex. Church architects continued, however, to build a room before the entrance of the nave. This room could be called an inside vestibule (if it is architecturally part of the nave structure) or a porch (if it is a distinct, external structure). Some traditions still call this area the narthex as it represents the point of entry into the church, even if everyone is admitted to the nave itself.
In traditional Byzantine architecture, the narthex is divided into two distinct structures: an esonarthex (inner narthex), between the outer porch and the body of the church proper separated from the nave and aisles by a wall, arcade, colonnade, or screen; and an exonarthex (outer narthex) outside the main façade of the church, usually part of a colonnaded or arcaded atrium or quadriporticus (quadrangle). The exonarthex may be either open on the western end or enclosed, with a door leading to the outside (as in the Chora Church). The esonarthex and exonarthex have distinct liturgical functions. For instance, the procession at the Paschal Vigil will end up at the exonarthex for the reading of the Gospel, while certain services are traditionally chanted in the esonarthex.
In some Eastern Orthodox temples (churches), the narthex will be referred to as the trapeza (refectory), because in ancient times, tables would be set up there after the Divine Liturgy for the faithful to eat a common meal, similar to the agape feast of the early church. To this day, this is where the faithful will bring their baskets at Pascha (Easter) for the priest to bless the Paschal foods which they will then take back to their homes for the festive break-fast. Traditionally, the narthex is where candles and prosphora will be sold for offering during Divine Services.
On feast days there will be a procession to the narthex, followed by intercessory prayers, called the Litiy.


By convention, ecclesiastical floorplans are shown map-fashion, with north to the top and the liturgical east end to the right. Therefore, some may refer to the narthex as being at the western end of the floorplan. This is merely a cartographic presentation for representational and conversational convenience; not to be confused with actual cardinal directions.
narthex in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Нартэкс
narthex in Bulgarian: Нартекс
narthex in Catalan: Nàrtex
narthex in German: Narthex
narthex in Modern Greek (1453-): Νάρθηκας (Αρχιτεκτονική)
narthex in Spanish: Nártex
narthex in French: Narthex
narthex in Galician: Nártex
narthex in Italian: Nartece
narthex in Dutch: Narthex
narthex in Norwegian: Narthex
narthex in Polish: Narteks
narthex in Portuguese: Nártex
narthex in Russian: Притвор
narthex in Slovenian: Narteks
narthex in Serbian: Нартекс
narthex in Finnish: Nartheks
narthex in Swedish: Narthex
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