Monday, April 27, 2009

Potentialities of the Rood Screen Today

Yesterday's "Good Shepherd Sunday" consideration of some Roman mosaics may have, by happenstance, also given you the opportunity to give some consideration to the architectural feature of the ciborium over top the altar -- an oft promoted architectural feature here upon the NLM -- since all but one of those venerable churches and basilicas included this element.

We are fortunate to slowly see ciboria re-appearing today in some projects -- though it is to be hoped that we will likewise begin to see it appear, not only in larger-scale church building projects, but also in those of a smaller scale, as well as a consideration for parish renovations where it would be suitable and reachable.

As has been noted numerous times before, in an age of free-standing altars, the ciborium is one particularly suitable way to lend presence and verticality to our altars -- something the high altar should have, and something which has often been lost in newer or renovated church buildings. (For more on this theme, cf. this article)

This inspired a further consideration of yet another architectural feature that we haven't spoken upon for awhile, but which would also be well deserving of continued architectural expression: the rood and rood screen.

I believe the rood screen has the potential to be used to great effect in our present liturgical circumstances -- though evidently, considerations of the particularities of an individual sanctuary need to be considered. A rood screen can have rather the same effect in relation to the altar that the ciborium or reredos have; namely, it frames the altar and draws the eye toward it as a central focal point within the church (and that it also draws attention further to Our Lord upon the Cross is a manifest benefit, particularly in view of the need today to re-emphasize both the sacrificial dimensions of the liturgy of the Mass, and the point that we are "turned toward the Lord" as our focus in the same.) It seems to me the rood screen could be effectively used in combination with a free-standing altar to great effect. (In fact, the clear delineation of the altar and sanctuary by a rood screen might even be thought to have a similar "canopying" like effect that the ciborium visually has, insofar as it delineates that space and the altar within it.)

I should note that in such an instance, I would propose that the altar would ideally be well-vested with a dignified antependium (which further draws attention to the altar itself), appointed with tall candlesticks, candles and altar cross appropriate to the proportions of the altar, screen and church -- and in visual continuity with the same; and the altar should be up upon a step (predella) to separate it from the rest of the sanctuary.

Behind the altar, one could still employ some sort of wall-mounted triptych if further detail was needed, or other ornamental sacred arts -- not to mention a tabernacle or hanging pyx and so on. The options are various and would have to be looked at on a case by case basis, but it seems to me to be a possible option that heretofore may not have been considered in parish construction or renovation.

With that, I'd like to offer for your consideration some beautiful images of rood screen which may help to foster this consideration.

(Pugin's Rood at St. Giles, Cheadle)

(Detail: Pugin's Rood at St. Giles, Cheadle)

We cannot show rood screens without making reference to our own Brother Lawrence Lew, who has captured numerous stunning photographs of such.

(The Rood -- from behind -- at Pusey House in Oxford.)

(The Rood at St. Birinius, Dorchester-on-Thames)

Finally a couple of images from St. Mary's church in Bruton, Somerset, England (courtesy of this site).

(Detail of Rood)

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