When did rood screens disappear from western churches? Or were they never ever-present to begin with in the west?
Rood screens, as far as I know, were mainly a feature of pre-Reformation English Catholicism. The word “rood” is an old English word that means cross – think of Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, Scotland. I believe they served the same function as the iconostasis does for the Orthodox and Eastern Catholics, however they were not covered in icons, but had various carvings and paneled features. The main carving on the uppermost cross-beam was that of Jesus on the cross with Mary and St. John on either side.
During the English Reformation and with its later more radical tendencies many Rood screens were ripped out of the churches along with other statues, high altars and frescoes painted over. If they weren’t ripped out, many were defaced and vandalized. Some of course survived the years and are now protected national treasures.
See this article in the Catholic Encyclopedia: newadvent.org/cathen/13181a.htm
The article does mention places with intact Rood screens and even some in France and Germany. Perhaps their use is more widespread than I’d thought, but at least in my mind it’s something I associate with English Catholicism.