Dowsing, the Commissioner of Parliament appointed to East Anglia, did his work of destruction very effectually, with the result that the wonderful screens of Ranworth, Southwold, Bramfield and elsewhere were ruthlessly despoiled of their lofts. The edict against the use of altars had already gone forth under Edward VI and had been obeyed even more thoroughly.1
1 In 1550, "He (Ridley) also carried some injunctions with him against some remainders of the former superstition, and for exhorting the people to give alms, and to come often to the sacrament, and that altars might be removed, and tables put in their room in the most convenient place of the chancel. In the ancient Church their tables were of wood ; but the sacrament being called a sacrifice, as prayers, alms, and all holy oblations were, they came to be called 'altars.' This gave rise to the opinion of expiatory sacrifice in the mass, and there-thought fit to take away both the name and form of altars. Ridley only advised the curates to do this ; but, upon some contests arising concerning it, the council interposed, and required it to be done, and sent with their order a paper of reasons justifying it, showing that a table was more proper than an altar, especially since the opinion of an expiatory sacrifice was supported by it." - Burnet, "History of the Reformation."
Fig. 131. Ludham, Norfolk, Chancel Screen. - Detail of painting and buttresses.
Fig. 132. Atherington, Devon, Detail Of Vaulting. - (See also Figs. 3, 4 and 5.)
Fig. 133. Atherington, Devon, E. Side Of Former Chancel Screen. - Mr. Fredk. Sumner, Photos.
These rood-lofts were reached, sometimes by a wooden stairway, more often by stone stairs from the aisles, or even built into the outer walls of the north and south aisles, when the screen stretched, as it did in many cases, right across nave and aisles. It was part of the ritual, on Good Friday, for the worshippers to ascend one of these staircases, to pass across the rood-screen and loft, and to descend by the stairs on the opposite side. Wagner has nobly commemorated this Good Friday ritual in " Parsifal."
At St. Michael-at-Plea is buried Thomas Porter who by his will dated 1405, "tied his messuage in this parish ... to find a wax candle burning on the rode-loft daily at matins, mass and vespers, before the image of the Virgin." John Hebbys, mercer, who lies in the Chapel of St. John in the same church, in 1485, "charges his house to find a lamp for ever on the rode-loft, to burn daily from six in the morning to ten in the forenoon."
In some of these rood-lofts, particularly those in the south-western counties, where they were often of great size, an altar was frequently installed in the loft, in which case it was used as a small chapel.
Fig. 134. Atherington, Devon, Detail Of Bressummer, W. Side. - Mr. Fredk. Sumner, Photo.
Whether the earlier chancel screens were always enriched with colour or gilding it is difficult to say. If remains of paint exist, as, for example, in the original part of the late fourteenth-century screen at Appledore in Kent, this may only indicate that the woodwork was painted over to tone with the Church. Traces of the original bright red with which the entire nave of this church was daubed have been found under numerous coats of whitewash. The chancel and chapel screens do not appear as integral parts of church woodwork before about the first years of the fourteenth century. Some crude examples, such as at Pixley in Herefordshire, and the fragment at Ivychurch in the Romney Marsh may be earlier. The timbering is massive and there is little attempt at ornament beyond rough moulding of mullions. It is difficult to imagine, however, in an age where the love of colour was one of its chief characteristics, that great masses of oak timbering would have been left, in the natural wood, with no attempt at decorative painting, however crude.
In the early years of the fourteenth century, carvings and tracery are already well advanced in the decoration of these chancel and chapel screens. The woodworker follows closely in the steps of the stonemason, hewing his ornament from masses of solid wood in the same fashion, but achieving some noteworthy results, as in the late thirteenth-century choir stalls at Winchester, which show comparatively few traces of the renovations of Bishop Fox in the early sixteenth century. The canopies of these choir stalls are typical of late thirteenth-century woodwork of the more elaborate kind, such as William of Wykeham's Cathedral would have possessed. The main supporting posts are beautifully crocketted and niched, the intermediate balusters turned in simple and graceful form. The chief characteristic, however, is the pinnacled canopy to each stall, crocketted above and filled below with arches and tracery cut from solid timber. This is the stonemason's method. There is little or no construction in these huge canopies; they are hewn out with the maximum amount of time and patience which could have been expended on them. It is otherwise with such examples as the grand canopies at Chester, Figs. 94 and 95, for example, which are about a century later in date. Here we have construction fully developed, with a due appreciation of the qualities of wood in tracery, pinnacle and crocket, as compared with stone. The design is amazingly delicate and intricate. Contrasted with the lofty choir these canopies appear rather as lace-work than as creations of the woodworker.
Fig. 135. Atherington, Devon, Detail Of Tabernacle Work On W. Side. - Mr. Fredk. Sumner, Photo..