Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

In early Christian architecture a portion of the church at the west end, separated from the nave by a low wall or screen and reserved for the catechumens, energumens, and penitents who were not admitted amongst the congregation. The narthex was of two kinds, exterior and interior: the former consisted of an open atrium arcade continued across the front of the church; in the latter, the aisle and gallery were returned across the nave. A survival of the exterior narthex may be found in the church of San Ambrogio at Milan ; of the interior narthex, in Santa Agnese, at Rome. The outer narthex was sometimes used as a hall of judgment and for other secular purposes, and, after the sixth century, as a place of burial, while the inner narthex sometimes called the matroneum , was used, probably for certain persons of rank or distinction, rather than as a women's gallery. After the abandonment of the atrium in the West, about 1000, the narthex developed by degrees into the great west porch which is so characteristic of the churches of southern France. Among the monastic orders it continued in use down to the beginning of the thirteenth century as, for example. in the abbeys of Cluny and Vézelay. With the full development of Gothic it disappeared, its place being taken by the three great western porches or doorways. Properly speaking, the name should have ceased with the function and the so-called narthex of medieval churches and abbeys should justly be called a porch. For the same reason there is no excuse for the recent revival of the word as a designation either of an exterior porch, or an interior vestibule.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Samuel 1:24-28
24 When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, ... Read More

Psalm, First Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8
1 Hannah then prayed as follows: My heart exults in ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 1:46-56
46 And Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for December 22nd, 2014 Image

St. Chaeromon
December 22: Bishop of Nilopolis, in Egypt. When the persecution was ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter