Rood (Anglo-Saxon Rod, or Rode, “cross”), a term, often used to signify the True Cross itself, which, with the prefix Holy, occurs as the dedication of some churches—e.g. Holyrood Abbey, in Scotland. But more generally it means a large crucifix, with statues of Our Lady and St. John, usually placed over the entrance to the choir in medieval churches. These roods were frequently very large, so as to be seen from all parts of the church, and were placed either on a gallery, or screen, or on a beam spanning the chancel arch. Roods are also occasionally found sculptured outside churches, as at Sherborne and Romsey, and on churchyard and wayside crosses. As to the antiquity of the rood in the church, there is no certain evidence. The silver crucifix set up in the middle of St. Peter’s at Rome by Leo III, in 795, is sometimes claimed as an early example, but there is nothing to prove that this was a rood in the medieval sense. By the thirteenth or fourteenth century, however, the great rood or crucifix had become a common feature in almost every church of Western Christendom, and the addition of the figures of Sts. Mary and John, in allusion to John, xix, 25, came in about the fifteenth. Numerous examples still remain, both in England and elsewhere. They were usually of wood, richly carved, painted or gilded, with foliated or crocketed sides, and with the arms of the cross terminating either in fleurs-de-lys or in emblazoned medallions of the symbols of the four evangelists.
Rood-lights were kept burning before the rood in medieval times, consisting either of a wick and oil in a cresset, or rood-bowl, or of a taper on a pricket in the center of a mortar of brass, lattern, or copper. During the whole of Lent, except at the procession of Palm Sunday, the Rood was covered with a veil (rood-cloth), which in England was either violet or black, and often was marked with a white cross. When the rood was exceptionally large or heavy, its weight was sometimes taken partly by wrought-iron rood-chains depending from the chancel arch, which were generally of elaborate design; the staples to which they were fixed may still be seen in some churches from which the rood itself has been removed—e.g. at Cullompton, England. The rood, 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.
Over such screens was a loft or gallery (rood-loft), which, according to some authorities, was used for the reading of the Epistle and Gospel, certain lections, the pastorals of bishops, the Acts of councils, and other like purposes. The episcopal benediction was also sometimes pronounced, and penitents absolved, from the loft, and in some churches of France the paschal candle stood there. The Blessed Sacrament was exposed on the loft in Lyons cathedral and, according to De Moleon, similarly also at Rouen in the eighteenth century. The loft likewise frequently provided convenient accommodation for the organs and singers. In large monastic churches it was called the pulpitum and was separate from the rood-screen supporting the rood, the latter being placed westward of the pulpitum; but in secular cathedrals and parish churches there does not seem to have been usually a separate rood-screen, the rood, in such cases, being either on or over the pulpitum itself. In France the rood-loft was called the jube, which seems to imply that it was used liturgically for the reading of lessons and the like. A gallery or loft corresponding to the medieval jube was not unknown in the early Church, but there is no satisfactory evidence to show that it was surmounted by a rood. Thiers, taking Sens cathedral as his example, suggests that the loft began merely as a sort of bridge connecting the two ambos on either side of the chancel arch, and that it was gradually made more spacious as it proved useful for other purposes. This could only have been so, however, in the smaller churches where there was no pulpitum, unless perhaps it was itself the origin of the pulpitum.
In smaller parish churches it seems probable that the loft was originally only a convenience for reaching the rood-lights, and that its obvious suitability for other uses caused its enlargement and elaboration. Nothing, however, can be stated with absolute certainty. Many of these medieval screens, both with and without lofts, remain to the present day, in spite of the iconoclasm of the Reformation period. Notable screens that may be mentioned as typical examples are at Cawston, Ranworth, Southwold, Dunster, and Staverton in England; at Troyes, Albi, St-Fiacre-le-Faouet, and St-Etienne-du-Mont, Paris, in France; at Louvain and Dixmude in Belgium; at Lubeck in Germany. Some are constructed of stone, and some of the later ones of metal-work, but they are mostly of wood and usually consist of close panelling below—often decorated with painted figures of saints—and open screenwork above, supporting tracery and richly carved cornices and crestings. In England they were generally lavishly colored and gilded. In some instances they extend across the aisles of the church as well. In England, also, the rood frequently stood not on or near the screen and loft, but on a separate transverse beam called the rood-beam, which was similarly carved and gilded. There were sometimes other beams also, besides that supporting the rood, like those at St. David’s, between the choir and sanctuary, and Lincoln beyond the high altar, on which stood lights and reliquaries. Corbels, or stone brackets in English churches—e.g., Worcester cathedral—often indicate the position of the rood-beam before its removal in the sixteenth century. Leading up to the rood-loft were the rood-stairs, many of which still remain even where the loft itself has been destroyed. In England these stairs were generally enclosed in the wall separating chancel from nave, but in other countries they often constituted an architectural feature with elaborate tracery, as at Rouen (since destroyed), Strasburg, St-Etienne-du-Mont, and La Madeleine at Troyes.
In churches where there were both pulpitum and rood-screen the latter usually had two doors, and between them was placed, on the western side, the rood-altar, which, in monastic churches, often served as the parish altar, the parishioners being accommodated in the nave. This was the case in almost all the monastic cathedrals and greater abbeys of England, and the altar, being immediately under the great rood, was dedicated to the Holy Cross, except at Durham, where it was called the Jesus altar, and at St. Albans, where the dedication was to St. Cuthbert. The latter still remains in situ as the parish altar. In Munster cathedral and at Lubeck, in the hospital church, there were three altars, with the two doors of the screen between them. In smaller churches, with no separate pulpitum, but only a rood-screen with a central doorway, there was usually an altar on either side of the door, but it is doubtful whether these can strictly be termed rood-altars. It seems probable that in some cases the rood-altar was on the loft itself, instead of beneath—e.g., at Lichfield, Lyons, and St-Maurice, Vienne. In some old lofts drains have been found which may possibly be the remains of the piscinas for such altars. The daily parish Mass said at the altar on or under the rood-screen, was called the rood Mass, though occasionally this term is used to signify merely the Mass of one or other of the feasts of the Holy Cross.
A few other terms used in connection with the rood may here be briefly explained. The rood-arch was the arch separating chancel from nave, under which the rood and rood-screen were usually situated. A rood-door was either the central door of a rood-screen or one of the two doors on either side of the rood-altar. Rood-gallery was another term for rood-loft. The rood-gap was the space under the chancel arch, partially occupied by the rood. The rood-saints were the figures of Ste. Mary and John on either side of the rood; rood-steps, the steps leading up from the nave into the chancel, under or immediately before the rood-screen. Rood-steeple, or rood-tower, was a name sometimes given to the central tower of a church at the intersection of nave and chancel with the transepts, as at Durham, Notre-Dame, Paris, and Lincoln. At the last-named place the name has since been corrupted into “Broad Tower.”
G. CYPRIAN ALSTON