Word of the Week (223): NARTHEX (probability 10368), by David Sutton

A NARTHEX is a rectangular entrance hall between the porch and nave of a church: the word derives ultimately from the Greek narthex, meaning giant fennel. And what, you may ask, has the giant fennel plant to do with churches? The answer is that its stems were used for making boxes, so this is a reference to the boxlike shape of the hall.

There are other posh classical words for bits of churches or ancient temples. The ADYTUM (plural ADYTA) was the innermost sanctuary of a temple, which the laity were deterred from entering, possibly, one likes to think, by a sign saying 'NO RIFFRAFF'. The word derives from the Greek a, not + duein, to enter. The NAOS (plural NAOI or NAOSES) also refers to the inner part of a temple, possibly without the suggestion of an exclusion zone.

A DELUBRUM (plural DELUBRUMS) is a church with a font, or the font itself.

A TRANSENNA is a screen enclosing a shrine, from the Latin transenna, trellis.

A TEMENOS (note the unusual plural TEMENE) was a consecrated area surrounding a temple: this derives from Greek temnein, to cut off.


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