The Rood Screen

Here is a New Liturgical Movement article about rood screens. Earlier article from the same blog. There are some lovely photos. What I really find significant is that present-day Catholics are becoming interested in the rood screen, for it had been largely the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation that worked towards its demise. Comparatively few are found outside England. Two I have personally seen here in France are at Saint Bertrand des Comminges (with an extraordinary baroque organ in a Renaissance case) and Saint-Etienne du Mont in Paris (where Maurice Duruflé was organist for many years). The Cathedral of Auch, also here in France has a choir screen with an organ on it in English fashion. Google search under "jubé" for images of rood screens in Europe.

The screen was usually in solid stone in cathedrals and large collegiate or abbey churches, and in carved wood in the parish churches. Most of the big stone screens in England have been used for organ lofts, as there is no better place in acoustic terms to put the organ. Screens without organs on them have a Calvary.

The French word jubé comes from Jube, Domne, benedicere (Pray, Lord, a blessing) which the deacon asks from the priest before reading the Gospel, which he did from the top of the choir screen. The French screen combined three elements:

  • the tref (beam of glory) carrying the crucifix and the statues of Our Lady and Saint John
  • a division between the nave and the choir with a central gate
  • one or two ambos.

The Council of Trent wanted a more didactical presentation of the Catholic liturgy to compete against the advance of Protestantism, and encouraged (in some places ordered) the removal of choir screens. The choir and the altar had to become visible for the faithful. They were replaced by pulpits and communion rails, sometimes as late as the 19th century. The rule applied in most parish churches and cathedrals, but private chapels were exempt – as can often be found in Brittany. Medieval churches that no longer have a rood screen still often bear traces such as cut-away pillars and a spiral staircase and door leading nowhere. Ironically, Anglican churches were devastated by the Reformation and Puritan iconoclasm – but were unaffected by the Council of Trent. More choir screens remain in England than anywhere else in the world.

At a pastoral level, the iconostasis does not seem to prevent Eastern Orthodox lay faithful from participating at their own level in the Divine Liturgy. Most screens in parish churches are of the open wooden type that can be seen through.

Author: Fr. Anthony Chadwick

Father Anthony Chadwick was born in the north of England into an Anglican family. He was educated in one of the Church of England’s most well-known schools, St. Peter’s in York, at which he was nurtured in the Anglican musical tradition. After several years studying and working in London he studied theology at university level in Switzerland, Italy and France. Still living in France, he has been a priest of the Traditional Anglican Communion (under Archbishop Hepworth) since 2005. Fr. Chadwick is charged with chaplaincy work among dispersed Anglicans in the north of France, is married and lives in Normandy. His interests outside the Church and directly religious matters include classical music, DIY and sailing. As a non-stipendiary priest, he earns his living as a technical translator.

4 thoughts on “The Rood Screen”

  1. Thanks for posting this, Father. I've always thought rood screens were among the most beautiful of ecclesiastical furnishings. After we had the rood screen built at Our Lady of the Atonement, one of the auxiliary bishops came to bless it. When he accepted the invitation, I'm not sure he knew what it was he was going to bless. The look on his face when he saw it was worth the price of the screen!

  2. I received this comment by private e-mail, and publish it here in the interest of intellectual honesty. I preserve the poster's anonymity unless he should ask for his name to be published.

    I believe your sources are incorrect regarding rood screens. (…)

    Anyway, I could not find my notes, but as I recall, the original rood screens were of fabric. In Medieval times the people were not really part of the Mass. The rood screen was actually meant to separate the people from the Mass. For whatever reason, the people were not administered either the body or blood. They participated, and it was considered that they received the sacraments in a visual way. At the epiclesis the priest would raise the body and/or blood above the rood screen. The people would get a glimpse of it. In that way they participated in the sacrament. I know this sounds screwy, but as it sounded so incredulous, we spent a significant amount of time discussing it.

    The comment seems quite strange for a western rite context. The mention of the Epiclesis would seem to indicate an eastern liturgical context and the use of the iconostasis. I'll add to this comment if there are any developments.

    1. I agree WRT "strangeness" of the comment. I wonder if terminology is the problem? I would think that it could be said that the people formed no part of "the Sacrifice of the Mass" (not "the Mass"), except via their visual participation (and vocal, to add the Eastern Rites with their hymns throughout the Liturgy). But, the reception of Communion by the people has always been a part of the Sacrificial Liturgy, though how often, and at what time(s), certainly varied according to time and place. "Frequent communion", for example, is a practice fostered by Pope St. Pius X, dead not yet 100 years.

  3. The early history of the Catholic Church in Tasmania (or Van Diemen's Land as it was then) includes the building of several churches with rood screens, courtesy of a friend of the first Bishop of Hobart Town – a certain Pugin…

    Two beautiful little Pugin churches, at Oatlands and Colebrook, still survive with their rood screens intact – apparently, one of the priests once stationed at the former church used to threaten that he would rise from the dead if ever the parishioners let the screen be taken down, and they've heeded his warning; and the Pugin Society of Australia has been funding the restoration of the latter church: last year, a Missa cantata was sung there (see article for pictures) for the first time in eighty years or so.

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