On my pilgrimages, I’ve seen some of the most beautiful rood screens in Britain, such as the one not far from my home at Patricio near Abergavenny in south Wales. There, at each side of the screen, dragons display their magnificent wings as luxuriant stems, foliage, flowers and berries grow from their mouths.
Other notable examples I’ve come across include that at Torbryan in Devon (here, in the lower section, the painted panels of saints still survive) and the one at the little church of All Saints at Eyton in Herefordshire where the fifteenth century oak screen was a great, unexpected find.
It is often said that medieval rood screens (the ‘rood’ being the large crucifix suspended above the structure when it was complete) were intended to obscure the congregation’s view of the chancel and the altar, that is the priest’s section of the church. However if you look objectively at a rood screen, you see that it would only ever have partially kept the people in the nave from looking through; it has plenty of gaps through which they, and now we, can gaze. Writing about the wonderful screen at Llananno in mid-Wales ( this is similar to the one at Patricio), the poet RS Thomas wrote, ‘the screen has nothing to hide. Face to face with no intermediary between me and God’.
Now, in the season of Lent and looking forward to Easter, we might reflect, taking words from Ephesians chapter 2 , on how we were separate, excluded and strangers but now we have been brought near by the blood of Christ, the barrier of the dividing wall being broken down . Now we have access in one Spirit to the Father . Perhaps at this special time in the Christian calendar, we can draw near to God with our prayers, hopes and fears, growing in our appreciation of Christ’s work on the cross, enabling us to have access to God by the Spirit. We can, indeed, come before God as if ‘face to face with no intermediary’.