Rood Screens

by Richard Hayman, Shire Books, 64pp, £7.99

Rood screens? Surely you can’t write a whole book about them – and, if you do, surely it would be unbearably boring? But in fact, Richard Hayman can write a book about them – not least because he is an expert in these matters, having also written Church Bench Ends and Misericords. And, no, rood screens aren’t boring – even if you aren’t an obsessive church-crawler.

The screens – which divide chancel from nave, and were originally topped with a rood, the Anglo-Saxon word for a cross, with the crucified Christ flanked by Mary and John the Evangelist – are crucial to the layout of a church, to English church history and to the aesthetic understanding of our most important buildings, our parish churches. And Hayman, in his gentle, easy-going, unacademic prose, is the perfect rood-screen guide.

What a joy to discover new architectural language: the rood loft, above the screen where singers would gather, is known as a “perke” in Norfolk, and a “candlebeam” in Suffolk. (Candles were set up on rood screens – the rood beam at Westwell, Kent, could accommodate 60 candles, and St Petroc, Exeter, went through 4,200lb of candles in 1541 alone, all burnt on its rood screen.)

The rood screen was a vital part of the church – screening the priest’s sacred rituals from the congregation, although worshippers were allowed a glimpse through the screen’s decorated openings.

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