Medieval English Roodscreens, with special reference to Devon
Williams, Michael Aufrere
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Roodscreens dividing church chancels and naves, topped with the image of Christ on the cross and often decorated with images of saints, were universal pieces of furnishing in English parish churches between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. This thesis centres on such screens in Devon, while seeking to place them in the context of their history in England as a whole. It discusses their origins, the period of their flowering in the later middle ages, and their fate at the Reformation, which swept away their lofts and iconography but kept their basic structures. While the heart of the thesis lies in the period from 1300 to 1570, consideration is also given to their subsequent fate between about 1570 and about 1870, when many disappeared due to changing fashions in church layout and furnishing. It concludes by showing how modern conservation, since 1870, has preserved most of those that remained as well as studying and restoring them. The thesis uses all the available primary and secondary sources for Devon, and major comparative ones for the rest of England. It discusses and criticises the evidence of churchwardens’ accounts, wills, the writings of the Protestant reformers of the mid-sixteenth century, royal and episcopal visitation articles, injunctions and orders for the period during and after the Reformation, antiquarian researches of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Church faculty records, and conservation reports made on screens in recent decades, as well as the major modern secondary works on the subject beginning with that of A. W. N. Pugin in 1851. Attention has also been given to the screens that survive, and to how they were constructed and decorated. The research shows that considerable sums were spent during the later middle ages on the construction, decoration, and maintenance of screens in all churches, from cathedrals and monasteries to parish churches. Parish communities in particular saw them as status symbols, raised money for their manufacture, and tried to match the best examples in nearby churches. Screens throw light on church layout, since they emphasised the division of the church into two areas, and on the organisation and understanding of worship, which they were designed both to seclude from and to reveal to the congregation. The iconography of screens provides valuable information about the cults of saints in late-medieval parishes. Screens became an issue during the Reformation, which did away with the iconography of screens but usually tolerated their survival, thereby retaining a visual object important to parishioners and the traditional division of the church that the screens embodied. Although some screens may have been removed in the sixteenth century, the greatest period of destruction was probably in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when screens clashed with the wish of Church leaders and people to have open church interiors with uninterrupted vistas, and in the mid to late nineteenth century, the period of church restoration when ecclesiological principles were at their most influential. The thesis concludes with a gazetteer of all the screens in Devon churches that survive or are known to have existed on the basis of historical and antiquarian records.
PhD in History