Naos – Architectural Elements Of Churches


A naos is the sanctuary, or inner room, of an ancient Greek temple or the shrine in that room in an Egyptian temple. The term is also used to refer to the area of a church in which the laity assembles. It does not include the sanctuary or the narthex. The naos can take very different forms according to the type of building. In Egypt down to the tenth century, the nave and two side aisles of a basilica with a return aisle at the western end was by far the most common form. In addition, the naos also occurred as a nave without aisles, as in the original building of the old church in DAYR ABU HINNIS, Mallawi.

In the small chapels of the seventh and eighth centuries that are occasionally found annexed to the monks’ dwellings in the great laura of Kellia (see hermitages 14, 16, and 20 of Qusur Izeila in Kasser, 1983), the naos has the form of two domed rooms, one behind the other. The substantially later old church of Dayr Anba Antuniyus has the same form. In the great transept basilicas of al-Ashmunayn, Abu Mina, and HAWWARIYYAH, the naos includes the transept.

In churches built on a central plan, tetraconchs (see below), and four-column churches, the naos, of course, has a central plan. However, in the Church of Sitt Maryam in Dayr al-Suryan, the naos consists only of a single vaulted bay in front of the khurus. A modern Arabic term for the naos is sahn al-kanisah (“construction of the church,” evidently a parallel to sahn al-masjid, or “court of the mosque”; Burmester, 1967, p. 20).


  • Burmester, O. H. E. The Egyptian or Coptic Church. Cairo, 1967. Kasser, R. Survey archéologique des Kellia Campagne 1981. Louvain, 1983.
  • Monneret de Villard, U. “La basilica cristiana in Egitto.” In Atti del IV congresso internationale di archeologia cristiana, pp. 315- 18. Rome, 1940.
  • Orlandos, A. K. Basilik». Athens, 1952.


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