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In bygone days screens were used to divide parts of the church. There are two main types, the square frame and the much richer arch. Some stone screens still remain, mainly in Wiltshire. Although that at Berkeley is the only stone one in Gloucestershire, evidence suggests there may have been stone screens at Ampney St Mary, Bagendon and Lower Barrington. The earliest screens had three arches. By the 15th century, partly resulting from better tools and partly due to the ravages of the Black Death, which resulted in a shortage of skilled masons, the skills of the carpenter had improved and wood was replacing stone. During the Jacobean period screens were made for side chapels. Some churches had the chancel aisle separated from the chancel by a screen known as a parclose.


The word rood comes from the Old Saxon roda meaning a cross. A rood-screen was so called because above it was the Rood or the Cross of Christ. On either side of the cross were figures of St Mary the Virgin and St John the Evangelist. Usually a Doom Painting looked down from the wall behind this group. Above the rood of some churches was a canopy of honour called a rood celure, formed by panelling or colour, and enriching the eastern bay of the nave roof. In Devon many rood-screens have retained their colour. Their fine carvings reach from one side of the church to the other. The panels at the base had numerous painted figures, for example Ashton in Devon. Screens in East Anglia are higher and lighter than those in the West Country, but those in the Midlands are generally plainer. Fairford and Rendcomb contain fine late Perpendicular carved screens. The majority of screens date from the 15th century when the wood carver came into prominence. The earliest example of a rood-screen is that at Stanton Harcourt, Oxon, dating from the 13th century.

In medieval times the nave was used for secular purposes, often being the only public meeting place in the village. The rood-screen, which divided the chancel from the nave, also marked the boundary for the upkeep of the church. Repairs in the nave were the responsibility of the parish whereas those in the chancel were undertaken by the rector. This is one reason why the two parts invariably differ in size. In bygone days the entrance to the chancel was the usual starting place for marriages and confirmations


Rood Screen, Harberton, Devon



Rood-lofts were platforms built above the rood-screen and so formed a gallery which was supported by a concave arch. Sometimes the floor of the loft rested on a beam parallel to and in front of the screen. The gallery formed was protected front and back by panelling. Few such galleries have survived in England although more can be found in Wales. A magnificent example resides at Attleborough, Norfolk. One of the main uses of the gallery was to provide accommodation for the choir, organ (if there was one) and the instrumentalists.

During the Reformation this gallery and the great-rood were the first parts in the church to be destroyed. Their figures were completely destroyed. Only South Cerney and Cartnell Fell in Lancashire retain part of the figure of Christ. The Doom Painting was whitewashed and usually covered by the Royal Arms, Lord's Prayer, Creed or the Ten Commandments. Many church buildings still retain part of the stairs which led into the rood-loft. It is clearly visible as a short flight of steps, in a wall or turret, leading to nowhere, eg here in St Mary's, Prestbury.

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The Parochial Church Council of the Ecclesiastical Parish of St Mary and St Nicolas Prestbury Cheltenham - Registered Charity No 1130933

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Last modified: 06 June 2015