medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
Christopher Crockett wrote:
> maybe i have not been reading closely enough, but it's not clear to me
> what a "rood loft" actually looked like.
> are we talking about what the French term a "jubé" --a choir screen, of
> whatever size, which seperates the choir and/or high altar from the nave?
> in larger churches these are larger (duh) and can be topped, not just
> with a crucifix (rood, perhaps with accompanying figures of SS Mary &
> John), but with a narrow "gallery" and/or pulpit.
> these latter elements could, i assume, be referred to as a "loft" (which,
> i must protest, must be *above* ground level).
> or is the English "rood loft" something else entirely?
There is clearly some terminological confusion, which I was hoping to avoid
by careful wording. The term "choir screen" is insufficiently precise, and
applied to different structures.
In a medieval parish church, the chancel would be separated from the nave
(at least in the later middle ages) by a wooden (very occasionally stone)
screen. This separated the part of the church used by the laity from that
used by the clergy, but was perforated so that the chancel and altar were
visible. It also made a legal demarcation, as the clergy (specifically the
Rector) were responsible for the construction and maintenance of the
chancel, and the parish (represented by the churchwardens) were responsible
for the nave. This screen (which might also extend across the aisles) would
have a central opening, closed by gates or doors. At the same point there
would be a rood (always a crucifix with accompanying figures of SS Mary &
John). This would normally stand on a separate "rood beam" spanning the
chancel arch. Quite often there would be a "rood loft" - a gallery attached
to the top of the screen or occasionally the rood beam. This gallery could
not normally have been used as a pulpit or to to support a lectern. (The
medieval lecterns which survive are quite substantial. Paul Bryant-Quinn
has mentioned the Rood at Brecon Cathedral [then Priory]. The loft there
would have been one of the few substantial enough to be used as a pulpit,
but the nave has a surviving medieval pulpit.)
These "choir screens" are often (usually?) referred to as "rood screens".
Few medieval screens survive in British parish churches, and even fewer
lofts, but the cramped access stairways were usually fashioned within the
thickness of the nave or chancel walls, and traces of these often survive.
In a cathedral or monastic church, there would be the substantial stone
"choir screen" or (more accurately) "pulpitum". This also had a single
central opening but was effectively solid, and the return choir stalls would
back onto it. This had a liturgical function, as there would be a lectern
upon it, but this would be facing into the choir, rather than into the nave.
(It now usually supports the organ, but it is not clear to me that this was
the case in medieval times.) If a monastic church (usually Benedictine) had
a parochial nave, then one bay west of the pulpitum there would be a second
(solid) stone screen. This would have the parish altar on its western face,
and small flanking doorways. The rood would stand above (or on) this stone
screen, which is normally called the "rood screen". (Following the
Dissolution, the monastic part of the church would be demolished, with the
parochial nave surviving. Sometimes the parish would swap their part for
the monastic choir, and it would be the nave that was demolished. Very
rarely did the whole church survive. The rood screen would be the basis of
the dividing wall.) There would not normally be a rood loft associated with
this type of "rood screen" - the example at Brecon is unusual.
(Arrangements were slightly different in Cistercian houses, as the nave was
usually used as the Lay Brothers' choir, so there would not, I believe, be a
In a cathedral there would not be the same necessity for a solid rood
screen, but I assume that there would be a rood beam in the same position -
and possibly a nave altar below.
As the rood loft does not have the same liturgical function as the pulpitum,
I was hoping to get some understanding of how it might have been used.
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