Friday, 30 April 2010

The Erudite Aunty Gary: rood-screens

Aunty Gary tells us about rood-screens...

According to Herbert Whone in his excellent tome, 'Church Monastery Cathedral: An Illustrated Guide to Christian Symbolism', the term 'rood screen' derives from the Middle English 'rod scren', which translates, literally, as 'cross screen'. However, technically speaking, this should really be described as a 'crucifix screen', as the rood would have been the large depiction of the crucified figure of Jesus in mortal agony upon the cross. 

Demarcating the (East) chancel end of the church from the (West) nave, in pre-Reformation churches this represented a crucial symbolic separation:
  • of the place of the lay people (nave) from the place of the priesthood (chancel).
  • of the commonplace earthly realm from the altar (the Holy heart of the church) in its' sanctuary, located (in English medieval churches) at the East(ish) end of the church. Before the Reformation(s) this area, as the place where Christ's sacrificial death is re-enacted with the consumption of the bread (body) and wine (blood), was invested with immense symbolic meaning and 'mystery' - hence the exclusion of the lay persons represented by the screen.
  • Despite this physical exclusion of the laity, the rood was designed to offer a glimpse of the mystery of the heavenly realm. 
The beautifully preserved rood-screen at Ranworth church
[Source: Simon Knott Norfolk Churches site]

The remarkably preserved rood loft at Coates St Edith's
church in Lincolnshire (R.S.A.R members visited, 2011)
In the photograph of the rood-screen at Ranworth church (above, top), you will notice a door above the screen, to the left hand side (as you face it). This is the opening of the rood stairs onto the rood-loft. In the centre of the loft would have been the rood, flanked on either side by the figure of the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist. 

At Wenhaston church in Suffolk, a miraculous survival of the tympanum (the boards which once would have filled the chancel arches of pre-Reformation English churches (see the picture of Coates St Edith's, above) allows us to 'picture' the original arrangement of the rood loft...


Note the central 'blank' where the rood once stood, with the figures either side. 

Our thanks go to Aunty Gary for taking the time to explain about rood-screens to visitors here 

~ Munro Tweeder-Harris, Esq. R.S.A.R. ~

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