Main altar behind wall in Latin Rite?

Over the years I have heard people remark that main altars in the Latin Rite of the Church were once placed behind walls or screens, much like the icnostasis of the Eastern Churches.

Digging a bit deeper, I cannot find a reference to support this position. There certainly have been altar screens behind and above the altar in the Western Church, but never in front of the altar from what I have read. The same goes for the reredos and retablo – both behind the altar. This is also true for choir screens and rood screens – both behind or to the side of the altar.

Can anyone good recommend a reference that actually describes the altar being placed behind a screen or wall in the Latin Rite?

I am beginning to think this is just more Church legend with no basis in fact.

Yes, they are called Rood Screens (from the old Saxon word for ‘Cross’ - as they were often topped with a crucifix)

syllysuffolk.co.uk/glossary/roodscreen.htm

( I majored in Engineering, but I got a minor in Art History- Ecclesiastical Architecture :wink: )

[quote=Brendan]Yes, they are called Rood Screens (from the old Saxon word for ‘Cross’ - as they were often topped with a crucifix)

syllysuffolk.co.uk/glossary/roodscreen.htm

( I majored in Engineering, but I got a minor in Art History- Ecclesiastical Architecture :wink: )
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And I believe that this was later simplified into the altar railing.

[quote=ByzCath]And I believe that this was later simplified into the altar railing.
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In many architecture, there was no rood screen, especially in the Mediterranian (Italy, South France and Spain)

But you are correct, in general the rood screen was discarded in favor of just an altar rail.

[quote=Crusader] This is also true for choir screens and rood screens – both behind or to the side of the altar.

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I think you misunderstand the location of the rood screen. The rood screen was defineatly between the altar and the nave. The common architectural word for the sanctuary is the chancel. The rood screen was located between the Sanctuary and the Nave. The faithful would recieve the Eucharist through the rood screen.

Here’s an example from St. Peter’s in Nottingham

http://www.stpetersnottingham.org/images/rood.jpg

[quote=Brendan]I think you misunderstand the location of the rood screen. The rood screen was defineatly between the altar and the nave. The common architectural word for the sanctuary is the chancel. The rood screen was located between the Sanctuary and the Nave. The faithful would recieve the Eucharist through the rood screen.

Here’s an example from St. Peter’s in Nottingham

http://www.stpetersnottingham.org/images/rood.jpg
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I’m not convinced that rood screens were typically between the altar and the congregation, as I stated in my original posting. In some cases sure, but certainly not in all cases.

In your picture above I cannot tell if the sanctuary or the nave is in the foreground. If it’s from the nave, the rood screen is behind the altar…

From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

The rood (crucifix), however, striking and prominent as it was intended to be, was often eclipsed by the rood-screen over which it was placed. The precise origin of the screen and its connection with the rood is somewhat obscure, and apparently varied in different churches. The custom of screening off the altar is very ancient, and emphasizing, as it did, the air of mystery surrounding the place of sacrifice, was possibly a survival of Judaism; but the placing of a screen, more or less solid, between the chancel and nave – i.e. between clergy and people – must have originated from practical rather than from symbolic reasons, and was probably an attempt to secure privacy and comfort for those engaged in the work of the choir, more especially at times when there was no congregation present. This was certainly the case with the heavy closed screens, usually of stone, in the large conventual and collegiate churches, where the long night offices would have been impossible in winter without some such protection.

[quote=Crusader]I’m not convinced that rood screens were typically between the altar and the congregation, as I stated in my original posting. In some cases sure, but certainly not in all cases.

In your picture above I cannot tell if the sanctuary or the nave is in the foreground. If it’s from the nave, the rood screen is behind the altar…

From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

The rood (crucifix), however, striking and prominent as it was intended to be, was often eclipsed by the rood-screen over which it was placed. The precise origin of the screen and its connection with the rood is somewhat obscure, and apparently varied in different churches. The custom of screening off the altar is very ancient, and emphasizing, as it did, the air of mystery surrounding the place of sacrifice, was possibly a survival of Judaism; **but the placing of a screen, more or less solid, between the chancel and nave – ** i.e. between clergy and people – must have originated from practical rather than from symbolic reasons, and was probably an attempt to secure privacy and comfort for those engaged in the work of the choir, more especially at times when there was no congregation present. This was certainly the case with the heavy closed screens, usually of stone, in the large conventual and collegiate churches, where the long night offices would have been impossible in winter without some such protection.
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The Chancel is the Sanctuary. The Rood Screens seperated the Sacnctuary (including the Altar) from the Nave (the people)

Some were, in fact, placed somewhat into what is the Nave as to include a Choir, but that was the only difference in placement I am familar with. Even in that case, it seperated the Holy from the Common.

By definition though, a Rood Screen exists between the Sanctuary (which includes the Altar) and the Main Body of the Church.

Also, the Main Altar is behind the screen in St. Peter’s. There is a wooden common altar in front, but that is a modern addition.

[quote=Brendan]The Chancel is the Sanctuary. The Rood Screens seperated the Sacnctuary (including the Altar) from the Nave (the people)

Some were, in fact, placed somewhat into what is the Nave as to include a Choir, but that was the only difference in placement I am familar with. Even in that case, it seperated the Holy from the Common.

By definition though, a Rood Screen exists between the Sanctuary (which includes the Altar) and the Main Body of the Church.

Also, the Main Altar is behind the screen in St. Peter’s. There is a wooden common altar in front, but that is a modern addition.
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Catholic churches have one main altar – the altar of sacrifice. That “wooden common altar” is the main altar of that church.

Still no hard reference(s) for rood screens other than the CE snippet. It seems that many rood screens were simple reredos. While some were between the altar and the nave, it seems that many were not.

In any event, the use of rood screens seems also uniquely confined to Catholic churches located in anglo-saxon lands of yore.

My entire reson for bringing this up is to test the validity of that pernitious rumor suggests that the use of Sanctus bells were instituted when walls went up between the altar and the faithful…

[quote=Crusader]Catholic churches have one main altar – the altar of sacrifice. That “wooden common altar” is the main altar of that church.

Still no hard reference(s) for rood screens other than the CE snippet. It seems that many rood screens were simple reredos. While some were between the altar and the nave, it seems that many were not.

In any event, the use of rood screens seems also uniquely confined to Catholic churches located in anglo-saxon lands of yore.

My entire reson for bringing this up is to test the validity of that pernitious rumor suggests that the use of Sanctus bells were instituted when walls went up between the altar and the faithful…
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St. Peter’s in now an Anglican Church.

I am unaware of any Rood Screen in the position of a reredos. If you have any references, I would like to see them

[quote=Brendan]St. Peter’s in now an Anglican Church.

I am unaware of any Rood Screen in the position of a reredos. If you have any references, I would like to see them
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I have no interest in Protestant practices.

[quote=Crusader]I have no interest in Protestant practices.
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Huh?

You said that you are aware of ‘Rood Screens’ behind the altar, in the position normally occupied by a reredos.

I was wondering if you could point me towards the one’s you are familar with?

[quote=Crusader]Catholic churches have one main altar – the altar of sacrifice. That “wooden common altar” is the main altar of that church.

Still no hard reference(s) for rood screens other than the CE snippet. It seems that many rood screens were simple reredos. While some were between the altar and the nave, it seems that many were not.

In any event, the use of rood screens seems also uniquely confined to Catholic churches located in anglo-saxon lands of yore.

My entire reson for bringing this up is to test the validity of that pernitious rumor suggests that the use of Sanctus bells were instituted when walls went up between the altar and the faithful…
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I doubt the rood screen was constructed after Vatican II had allowed the use of a wooden altar. In a period when even simple altar rails were being taken out, it seems odd that a rood screen might only then be placed in the church. Rather, I would assume it to be part of the original architecture - at which point it would have been placed between the (old) sanctuary and nave. The fact that the new main altar changes this arrangement doesn’t erase it from history.

i remember reading in a book by Klaus Gamber (i think) that the rood screen was to separate the choir from the naive. it had nothing to do with the byzantine iconostasis. the icon screen didn’t appear until the year 1000 and evolved from the altar rail. old altar rails have paintings and carvings on them. somehow they made them bigger into the modern icon screen. The altar rail basically represents the tables where the early christians would eat during the agape and even today some churches have a cloth over them. but the rood screen was well in front of the altar. i’ve seen a picture where they had two altars: one behind the rood screen and choir, and another in the naive for the people.

now i know some of the earliest customs were to have a curtain drawn around the altar during the consecration. newadvent.org/cathen/01353a.htm this highlights the modern error of the priest facing the people (ad populum) so that the laity may see what’s going on. this is totally foreign to the roman mass.

[quote=Crusader]Catholic churches have one main altar – the altar of sacrifice. That “wooden common altar” is the main altar of that church.

In any event, the use of rood screens seems also uniquely confined to Catholic churches located in anglo-saxon lands of yore.


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That is also incorrect. Notre Dame du Paris and St. Etienne Cathedrals both show evidence of a metal work barrier between the Sanctuary and the Nave.

[quote=Andreas Hofer]I doubt the rood screen was constructed after Vatican II had allowed the use of a wooden altar. In a period when even simple altar rails were being taken out, it seems odd that a rood screen might only then be placed in the church. Rather, I would assume it to be part of the original architecture - at which point it would have been placed between the (old) sanctuary and nave. The fact that the new main altar changes this arrangement doesn’t erase it from history.
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If you are refering to St. Peter’s of Nottingham, Vatican II does not apply. The Rood Screen there is an 19th Century restoration of the previous medieval one.

The wooden altar is used by the modern Anglican services there. It’s existance is meaningless to the discussion, namely the definition of a Rood Screen being a barrier or wall between the Sanctuary\Chancel and the Nave.

[quote=Brendan]If you are refering to St. Peter’s of Nottingham, Vatican II does not apply. The Rood Screen there is an 19th Century restoration of the previous medieval one.

The wooden altar is used by the modern Anglican services there. It’s existance is meaningless to the discussion, namely the definition of a Rood Screen being a barrier or wall between the Sanctuary\Chancel and the Nave.
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I was actually trying to agree with you, Brendan, and was trying to point out to Crusader that while the wooden altar may now be the “main altar” it is irrelevant to whether the rood screen - at the time of its original construction - separated the sanctuary from the nave.

[quote=Brendan]If you are refering to St. Peter’s of Nottingham, Vatican II does not apply. The Rood Screen there is an 19th Century restoration of the previous medieval one.

The wooden altar is used by the modern Anglican services there. It’s existance is meaningless to the discussion, namely the definition of a Rood Screen being a barrier or wall between the Sanctuary\Chancel and the Nave.
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Vatican Council II also didn’t apply to Protestant Churches like the one listed above.

[quote=Brendan]That is also incorrect. Notre Dame du Paris and St. Etienne Cathedrals both show evidence of a metal work barrier between the Sanctuary and the Nave.
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Your retort is not correct. No hard evidence exists for any barrier that truly divided the sanctuary and nave in the two aforementioned buildings.

Your retort is not correct. No hard evidence exists for any barrier that truly divided the sanctuary and nave in the two aforementioned buildings.

You, sir, do not know what you are talking about. Please see the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the history of the rood, as well as this article on the history of barriers in the West between sanctuary and nave.

[quote=ybeayf]You, sir, do not know what you are talking about. Please see the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the history of the rood, as well as this article on the history of barriers in the West between sanctuary and nave.
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Before firing-off rude a rude retort you should have taken the time to read and understand my postings. I never denied the existance of rood screens and I was the first to reference the Catholic Encyclopedia (did you miss that?)

However rood screens were not used in any large numbers outside of churches located in the Anglo-Saxon lands – churches that became Protestant in the 16th century.

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