Narthex Reclaimed: Reinventing Disciplinary Space in the Anglican Mission Field, 1847–1903

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Abstract / Description of output

This paper explores the reinvention of the narthex in Anglian missionary circles during the second half of the nineteenth century. This was a spatial device used in ancient Christian architecture to hold catechumens,‘inquirers’, and those who were seen as violating ecclesiastical discipline. As the Church of England continued to extend its missionary activity throughout the world during this period, an appropriate solution was sought (especially among High Church missionaries) to maintain order and discipline during divine worship, particularly in areas where missionaries encountered large numbers of indigenous non-Christians, namely Asia and Africa. The narthex was seen as an ecclesiologically ‘correct’ method of achieving this, providing a space at the front of a church where non-Christians could ‘inquire’, and where catechumens could reside before baptism and thus make a symbolic entry into the church of Christ. Although never systematically implemented in the Anglican mission field, the reinvention of this ancient spatial device opens a window onto the practical, scholarly and imaginative capacity of Victorian Anglicanism in its efforts to evangelise the ‘heathen’ world while remaining within what it saw as a continuous, living tradition dating back to the early Church. Thus, the reinvention of the narthex emerges as a piece of spatial machinery that was at once functional and romantic, modern and historical, inclusive and discriminatory; a space that was clearly used for the purposes of control but one that also encouraged the participation and potential conversion of non-Christians.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Early online date14 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Narthex
  • missionary
  • Anglican
  • church architecture
  • discipline
  • imperial networks


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