1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Narthex

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NARTHEX (Gr. νάρθηξ, the name of the plant giant-fennel, in Lat. ferula), the name applied in architecture, probably from a supposed resemblance in shape to the reed-like plant, to the long arcaded porch forming the entrance into a Christian church, to which the catechumens and penitents were admitted. Sometimes there was a second narthex or vestibule within the church, when the outer one was known as the exonarthex. In Byzantine churches this inner narthex formed part of the main structure of the church, being divided from it by a screen of columns. A narthex is found in some German churches, where, however, it had no ritual meaning but was introduced as a western transept to give more importance to the west end. One of the finest examples to be found in England is that of Ely cathedral, where its northern portion, however, was apparently never completed.