medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Jim Bugslag wrote:
> Much of the evidence for "nave-side" use of the pulpitum is 16th or 17th
> centuries.  On the other hand, it would appear that substantial screens
> around choir and sanctuary only began to develop from about the 12th
> century.  I still think a case can be made for earlier nave-side use.  In
> searching for more evidence of this, I've reread Jaqueline Jung's
> article"Beyond the Barrier: The Unifying Role of the Choir Screen in
> Gothic Churches," Art Bulletin, vo. 82 (2000), 622ff,

Yes, that's a fascinating article - thanks for the reference.  There is
circumstantial evidence for a change  in the layout of choirs at about the
end of the 12th century - prior to that the clergy could have been seated
aound the apse, for example - and choir screens could well have been 
introduced then.

> in which she specifically states, concerning jubes, "As their vernacular
> designations in France and Germany indicate, their primary purpose was to
> provide a stage from which the Gospels and Epistles would be read to the
> lay congregation in the nave".

There are all sorts of problems with that statement - not least, why would
one read the Gospels and Epistles to the lay congregation in the nave?

> She has lots of liturgical sources in her bibliography, but nothing
> specifically tied to such a view, however.  I've also had a fresh look at
> Aymer Vallance, Greater English Church Screens (London, 1947).  He states
> your position quite closely on pp. 19-20, specifically (and perhaps not
> surprisingly!) in relation to the "rule of Sarum: "On days when the
> Epistle was read from the pulpitum the Gradual also, instead of being read
> 'ad gradum chori' was read from the pulpitum by two boys facing towards
> the quire."  Later on, however (p. 24), he cites other information that
> seems to indicate nave-side use.  For example, a statute of 1251
> prescribing the ceremonial for the reception of a bishop of Chichester, on
> his first arrival at his cathedral church, contains the direction: "Tunc
> intret ecclesiam et ascendat pulpitum si volerit exponere verbum Dei which
> shows that, so early as the 13th century, the pulpitum on occasion was
> used as a pulpit in the modern sense, for preaching."  Granted, there is
> some ambiguity about whom he would have been preaching to, but this and
> other references certainly seem to suggest nave-side use.  It is possible
> that there were differences between normal liturgical use and
> paraliturgical or special use, I suppose, but I have seen no studies
> detailed enough to make the situation very clear.

Yes, I said that I was quite happy with  it being used for special events,
but as "pulpitum" means 'pulpit', it is by no means obvious that the good
bishop wasn't simply using the nave pulpit.
> Jung has some sensitive analysis of the role of the pulpitum in
> relation to clerical exclusiveness and lay participation, including
> at least occasional lay presence within the sanctuary for services.

Yes, lay presence (usually high status) within choir or sanctuary is well

> She also cites quite a lot of legislation and practice suggesting
> that the doors in the jube were kept open during services in the
> sanctuary specifically to provide visual access from the nave, and
> even cites the case of Chartres Cathedral, where a purple cloth was
> suspended behind the high altar, so that the elevated Host could be seen
> more clearly from the nave.

"From the nave"  may be an exaggeration - I read that to mean through the
choir entrance, and that would be quite a restricted view.

> She also gives sources for the pulpitum serving as a stage for
> dramatic performances.

That's certainly more plausible than using  the rood lofts of parish
churches, which just didn't have sufficient space.

> I'm afraid this exhausts my resources on this subject, but this discussion
> has been stimulating, even if it has raised more questions (for me, at any
> rate) than it has answered.  The peculiar English arrangement of having
> two screens at the west of the choir (with a space between them that is
> sometimes, quite confusingly, referred to as a "retrochoir", which is also
> used for spaces east of the sanctuary) certainly needs more investigation.
> And whatever the liturgical use of the pulpitum as a raised platform, it
> certainly formed a splendid backdrop for all sorts of activities in the
> crossing and nave.

I'm not aware of it being peculiarly English -  as I said, it was peculiarly
monastic, where there was parochial use of the nave (Benedictine) or it was
used as the lay-brothers choir (Cistercian).  Use of the term "retrochoir"
in this context is to be deprecated, but I think the logic must be that it
is a 'retrochoir' relative to the nave 'choir'.

John Briggs

To join the list, send the message: join medieval-religion YOUR NAME
to: [log in to unmask]
To send a message to the list, address it to:
[log in to unmask]
To leave the list, send the message: leave medieval-religion
to: [log in to unmask]
In order to report problems or to contact the list's owners, write to:
[log in to unmask]
For further information, visit our web site: