The narthex is sort of an outer porch/hallway/lobby area in traditional church architecture. It was a place akin to the court of the Gentiles in the Jewish temple. It was used to separate those who had not been admitted to full membership in the church from those who had. Depending on the location and era, it held penitents, the demon possessed, heathens, heretics, Jews, or sometimes women.
At first it was separated from the sanctuary only by a screen, but later the barrier was a wall. Often it contained a baptismal font, near the entrance to the main part of the building. This indicated that those who were baptized would then be allowed to enter the sanctuary. Narthex is still apparently alive and well in the vocabulary of the Catholic church and mainline denominations, though now it is only a part of the architecture. If I understand correctly, it no longer has any kind of separating function.
Other meanings of the word narthex are “giant fennel” and “casket”. Some think there may be a connection because a casket and the narthex of the church could resemble a hollow stem (like that of the giant fennel).
Now you too can drop the word narthex in your conversations. Try it this week!
“So Frank, how’s the remodel coming? Have you considered adding a narthex off the family room?”
“I felt so out of place at the party, I thought I was in a narthex.”
“I’m thinking of grilling some halibut and garnishing it with a little narthex for the barbecue this weekend.”
Just some suggestions…do you have any to add?