“Rood” is an Old English term used to signify the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified, the true cross. By the 13th or 14th century, the great rood – or crucifix – had become a common feature of almost every church of Western Christendom, from great cathedrals to modest parish churches. In many cases, a rood, or crucifix, is supported by a rood screen, and the crucifix is flanked by statues of the Virgin Mary and St. John as mourners.
Normally placed over the entrance to the chancel, rood screens became standard furniture separating the choir from the nave. Made of wood, or, rarely, of stone, they were often richly carved, painted or gilded, with the arms of the cross terminating in fleurs-de-lys or in emblazoned medallions of the four evangelists. Some believe the rood screen allowed worshippers to enact going towards God through the screen, through Christ crucified. However, many see the screen as simply a beautiful carving, furniture, or even as a barrier to the choir.
In 16th century England, during the Protestant Reformation, the vast majority of rood screens were removed or defaced. When Henry VIII was succeeded by his son Edward VI in 1547, a more radical reformation was imposed that included the abolition of the mass, the destruction of images, and the closing of the chantries. With the coming of the Renaissance, constructing chancel screens became rare. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Anglo-Catholics, under the influence of the Oxford Movement, enthusiastically restored many screens. Most that exist today display signs of damage that was inflicted almost 500 years ago.