Terminology - sanctuary

This is random I know but it seems so trivial to ask my priest or deacon.

What is the actual term for the worship area (meaning the area which faces the altar with all the pews)? I know the altar area is the sanctuary - or is that just when there is a high altar? What area is the vestibule?


The area with the altar is always the sanctuary.

The seating area is the nave.

The vestibule is the entrance-room (ante-chamber).


The vestibule is also known as a Narthex

Especially in Eastern Churches, it’s called the narthex. Even some western churches use this term.

That is all it’s ever been called, at the parish I grew up in, and the parish I attend now.

Then again, there was one parish that called it the ‘gathering space’, but we’re not there now :wink:

When I answered the question, I started to type that the vestibule is the place where we take off our coats (or put them on if leaving), based on the word itself. I wonder (but don’t know) if the word has any connection to “vesting” ourselves with our coats???
Or is this just a coincidence? I couldn’t find an answer.

I wouldn’t know where to find the answer.
That’s along the lines of what I thought when I first heard the word. My church expanded a few years ago and the addition included a new entrance area. It took me forever to figure out what my priest was talking about when he’d say something like ‘the extra bulletins are in the vestibule’. Before we didn’t have an entrance area really or a place to hang our coats and I’d never heard the word.

Oxford English Dictionary is a help.

First, vestibule is an anglicization of vestibulum which is Latin (no surprise there!) for “entrance, court”. Both vesti and bulum are separate Latin words, meaning “garment, clothing” and “[Greek] council or senate” respectively, but I’m not entirely sure there’s a connection here. Neither is the OED: “[ad. L. *vestibulum (hence F. vestibule, OF. vestible, It., Sp. and Pg. vestibulo), entrance-court, fore-court, entrance. The origin of the L. word is uncertain.]”

As I understand it, “narthex” is more of an architectural term, and is really the proper form for the area in a church building, whether Eastern or Western.

As for “vestibule” (which is more appropriate to a house or other non-ecclesiatical structure) it seems to me that Fr David is on the right track. In ancient times, visitors would remove their outer cloaks (and perhaps sandals or boots) before entering the house proper, and would resume them upon departure. From that, I don’t find it too much of a stretch to see a connection there with the idea of “entrance court” etc.

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