|Rood, rood beam, rood loft, rood loft stairs,
rood screen. The most striking difference
between a Suffolk parish church before the Reformation,
and one after it, is that the eastern end of the nave would have been filled with
the apparatus that supported the great rood
- literally, cross. This consisted of a large
representation of Christ crucified, flanked by Our Lady
and St John. These were usually statues, although some
may have been painted on to a tympanum.
It served as a constant reminder to the faithful of the
central truth of Christianity. No medieval roods survive
The rood was fixed to the wall above the chancel arch, supported from beneath by a rood beam, which crossed the chancel arch from south to north. Several rood beams survive in Suffolk; there are particularly fine ones at Denston, Ufford and Westerfield.
Below this, possibly with a parapet concealing the beam, was the rood loft. This was a gallery, within which a choir might sing, the Gospel might be read, and candles lit along the rood beam. No medieval rood lofts survive in Suffolk, although the lofts on the parclose screens are still to be seen at Dennington. The north ends of the rood beam and rood loft floor stick out of the wall at Thornham Parva.
Access to the loft was by the rood loft stairs, evidence of which survives in about a half of all Suffolk medieval churches. They were usually made of stone, turning inside the wall; hundreds of examples survive, including Newbourn, Blythburgh and Frostenden, to name just three at random. Occasionally the steps were cut flush into the wall, with a turn at the east end of the nave, as at Barningham and Whepstead. Sometimes, they obviously incorporated a now-vanished wooden stage, as at Denston.
Beneath the rood loft, the rood screen filled the space between nave and chancel. Altars would have been set against the nave side, dedicated to particular saints or chantry guilds. Many fine screens survive in Suffolk, with the remains of many more. Perhaps the best is at Southwold.
The screen usually had paintings of saints on it, or occasionally orders of angels or Old Testament prophets. As well as Southwold, fine figures can be found at Blundeston Westhall, Bramfield, Ufford and Somerleyton, among several other places. The images on the screen at Wyverstone are carved in relief.
The late 19th and early 20th century Anglo-catholics, under the influence of the Oxford Movement, enthusiastically restored rood screens; in several cases, they completely reconstructed them, with rood, rood loft, rood beam, and sometimes even altars. The best examples are Ninian Comper's work at Eye and Lound, and that extraordinary shrine in the hills at Kettlebaston. Perhaps the most interesting is Rattlesden, where the entire structure is reconstructed in unpainted wood; it is the most complete reconstruction of the rood apparatus in the county, and its structure and use are brilliantly clear. The same thing on an even larger scale was attempted at Lowestoft St Margaret; after a magnificent north aisle parclose screen was completed, they ran out of either money or enthusiasm.
Index of entries with significant rood screens.