Narthex (Gr. νάρθηξ, signifying a plant with a long stalk but applied by the Greeks to any oblong figure) is the technical term used in ecclesiastical architecture to designate that part of the early Christian churches which formed an outer division, and may be properly termed an "ante-temple," it being within the church, yet separate from the rest by a railing or screen, and being the part to which catechumens and peenitents were admitted. SEE CHURCH. The term narthex is supposed to have been given to it on account of its oblong shape, in this respect resembling a rod or staff (ferula). It was the long and narrow part extending along the front of the church. Here were usually three entrances: one on the west side, another on the south, and another on the north. The chief entrance or great door was at the west, opposite the altar: it was called, after the corresponding gate in the Jewish Temple, the beautiful or royal gate. The gates and doors consisted of two folding leaves. The doors leading from this part into the nave were appropriated to the various classes of the members, and named accordingly, "the priests' door," "the men's door," etc. In the vestibule, πρόναος, in the stricter sense, the catechumens and audientes had their station. Here also heretics and unbelievers stood. In the πρόπυλα, or portico, funerals were performed; in large churches meetings for ecclesiastical purposes were held there, and in later times the water-font was also placed there, instead of being, as formerly, outside the walls of the church — in the exedran, or buildings adjoining the church. In this fountain persons entering were accustomed to wash their hands and face. SEE FONT. See Farrar, Eccles. Dict. s.v.; Martigny, Dict. des Antiquites, s.v.; Coleman, Christian Antiquities, pages 723-25; Bingham, Christian Antiquities, 2:286-290; Siegel, Christl. Alterthumer, 2:876; Riddle, Christian Antiquities; Walcott, Sacred Archaeol. s.v.; Neale, History of the Eastern Church (Introd.).

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