"Vestibule," "Narthex," or "Gathering Space" ???


“Vestibule,” “Narthex,” or “Gathering Space” ???


Vestibule = Protestant, since they avoid church-specific words X

Gathering Space = New Age ('nuff said) X

Narthex = an ecclesiastical word


I can already see the sequels to this poll:

“Nave” or “Worship space”

“Introit” or “Gathering song”

“Offertory” or “Preparation of the Gifts”

“Priest” or “Catholic-Christian Faith Community Leader”


Any of the above, depending:

vestibule: really small space, just enough to shake off the raingear before proceeding to a “real” place, like the nave…

narthex: larger, a worship space in it’s own right. The baptismal liturgy begins there.

gathering space: actually a small to medium sized parish hall, often nearly the same size as the adjoining nave and sanctuary space; excellent for the after-Mass coffee and doughnuts…

karen marie


This is cracking me up…may be a regional thing. In my Catholic upbringing, we had always refered to it as “gathering space” or “vestibule” (most commonly vestibule). The only time I ever heard the term “narthex” was at a Baptist Church. Isn’t that afunny?


And we have yet to distinguish between “crypt,” “grotto,” and “undercroft.” :smiley:


Where’s the “all of the above” option?


I’ve always thought of “vestibule” as the Catholic word and “narthex” as the Episcopal word, except our Catholic Cathedral has a narthex, too.

“Gathering space” is just out there. I refuse to say it. The parishes that have them are not at all my style.



I also thought that “narthex” was mainly an Anglican term. Every Catholic church I’ve attended refers to the space as a vestibule. “Gathering space” seems to be used primarily in those modern churches with larger vestibules for this purpose. It is a noble idea to separate talkers from pray-ers, but in such churches they don’t work very well, as most people go into the pews and chat constantly.

By the way, why do so many modernists love variations of the word “gather?”


I’ve always associated “narthex” with the Protestants. :confused:


Ok, I had an Art History minor with an emphasis on Ecclesial Architure, so I’ll chime in here.

A ‘Vestibule’ is the forecourt of any building ( the area between the main portico (entrance) and the body of the building proper.

A “Narthex” is a Vestibule in a Church, the space between the main entrance and the Nave of the Church.

A courthouse or office building may have a Vestibule, but only a church may have a Narthex.

Does that make sense?


Same here. I actually never heard the term until I was in college talking with some of my Lutheran friends.

In the Base Chapels where I attended many a Mass it was the “vestibule”, the same with the Churches I attended.

Gathering space is definitely not a term I am familiar with, Parish Hall, social room (protestant term) but not gathering space. Maybe I have just been lucky enough to not ever to have been in a parish that was that “modern”:stuck_out_tongue:

Brenda V.


A ‘Vestibule’ is the forecourt of any building ( the area between the main portico (entrance) and the body of the building proper.

A “Narthex” is a Vestibule in a Church, the space between the main entrance and the Nave of the Church.

A courthouse or office building may have a Vestibule, but only a church may have a Narthex.

Precisely my point. A vestibule may be found in any number of places, not just churches, and so Protestants, particularly non-liturgical ones (read: Evangelicals), tend to use that secular term.

A narthex, OTOH, is a distinctively ecclesiastical word and comes from Latin. The English version of the word has always been used extensively in England, which is why some here associated the word with Anglicans. (This is true of many such words that are widely used by Catholics in England, such as *Maundy *Thursday for Holy Thursday, or Lady Day for the feast of the Annunciation.) Liturgically-minded Protestants (including Lutherans and Methodists) also picked up on the word, but Evangelicals never did.

We do seem to agree that gathering space is the province of touchy-feely, community-worshipping gurus.:whacky:


Merriam Webster says it comes from the Greek (though why “giant fennel, cane, casket” should come to be used for the space I can’t say).

The old Catholic Encyclopedia says the word is outdated, as the narthex is specifically the vestibule beyond which the unbaptized and those performing pennance were not allowed to pass (this is why the baptismal font was often placed in the narthex). Since entry into the nave is no longer so restricted, “vestibule” is a now a more reasonable term.



Entry to the Nave by the Baptized does not define what a Narthex is, but rather it’s location within a Church.

And it’s use over ‘Vestibule’ IS more correct, in the same way as we use "Nave’ to describe the body area of a Church. In a secular building the same space would be called a “Gallery”

But as we call that space a “Nave”, so should we use the Ecclesial term" Narthex over 'Vestibule"


Hey, don’t shoot the messenger – I’m just interpretting the old Catholic Encyclopedia

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.

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.

(There is likewise a whole article on the vestibule, which one could surmise gives that term Ecclesial imprimatur (dating from the fifth century))



When I was protestant, we called that area the foyer or the lobby :blush:


Funny - in our smaller old church we called that space the vestibule - it was a wide hallway that had the cry room on one side and the priest’s vestments room on the other. It had only 2 wide doors to get in from the cold.

In our new much larger church dedicated in January 07 of this year - that area is very large and called the Narthex. It has 3 sets of double wide doors to get in from - tallest one in center.

It is beautiful. Very tall, very wide, tile floor, beautiful reverent art, huge water vessels, a glass wall paned in wood 60 feet high leading into the nave of the main church.

Strange how the words change based on new church.


Here in Southern California and other southwestern areas, a “Gathering Space” is likely to be an area which is outside the building rather than inside. Many modern churches are built with some kind of ‘courtyard’ which is reminicent of that of a Spanish mission.


I prefer my nartheces with flying buttresses…

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