Harold Charles King.

The chancel and the altar online

. (page 2 of 7)
Online LibraryHarold Charles KingThe chancel and the altar → online text (page 2 of 7)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the altar and the clergy. As in the civil
basilica, the floor of the apse was raised ;
no doubt, in order that the clergy might
be the better heard, and also that the
faithful might the better see what was
being done. But the view was to be a
restricted one ; for a Church which called
its chief service by the name of the " Holy
Mysteries " would naturally be desirous
of impressing the idea of a mystery by
means of the senses. The protective
railing therefore became, as it did in the
civil basilicas, a screen.

In the West this screen was usually a
low one ; but in the East and in the
Coptic churches it was not only of a more
solid nature, but was also loftier. Often
it consisted of a stone wall with openings,
which were closed by means of doors or
hangings during the more solemn parts of
the service. This arrangement and prac-
tice is universal in those most conservative
of Churches, the Eastern Orthodox and
the Nestorian.



Plate 10.




S. CLEMENT'S, ROME. (See page 27. )



Screens 27

These screens afforded great oppor-
tunities for craftmanship, and the architects
were not slow to avail themselves of them.
Eusebius, the Bishop of Caesarea, in his
description of the church built at Tyre by
the Emperor Constantine, at the consecra-
tion of which he preached, says, " This
(viz. the sanctuary) again, that it might be
inaccessible to the multitude, he sur-
rounded with wooden lattices, perfectly
finished with the most cunning workman-
ship, so that the sight presented to the
beholders was admirable indeed/' The
screen erected in the Church of the
Apostles at Constantinople, also built by
Constantine, was a " reticulated screen of
gilded bronze."

None of these early fourth -century
screens remain, but something of their
nature may be seen from the marble
screens of later periods, dating from the
sixth century, as, for example, those at
S. Clement's, Rome (Plate 10).

A colonnade or row of four, six, or



28 The Chancel and the Altar

twelve columns, was another form of
screen adopted. The columns were either
built on low parapet walls, as was probably
the case in the old church of S. Peter at
Rome (Plate 12) ; or else, as at Torcello
Cathedral (Plate n), the spaces between
the columns were filled in with low screens.
An entablature surmounted the columns,
and linked them together.

In the basilica at Jerusalem, which was
built by Constantine, who intended it to
be the finest in the world, we are told by
Eusebius that the "apse" was "sur-
rounded " by twelve columns, equal in
number to the Apostles, and adorned on
their summits with great bowls of silver.
The actual position of these columns
cannot be accurately determined from
Eusebius's description ; but, since we find
colonnades used as screens at a later date,
it; is highly probable that this was their
use here. It would not be surprising,
moreover, if an arrangement adopted in
the finest of the Constantinian basilicas,



Pfatc n.




TORCELLO: INTERIOR OF CHURCH. (See page 28.)



30 The Chancel and the Altar

which had been erected within a few feet
of the site of the Resurrection and was
made familiar by the visits of many
pilgrims, should have been copied else-
where.

But there may have been another reason
than mere sentiment in adopting the
colonnade as a screen. It became the
practice to insert a beam upon which was
fixed a cross ; or in much later times a
crucifix, with the attendant figures of S.
Mary and S. John. In the larger churches
where the span was great some inter-
mediate support was needed for this rood
beam ; this the columns provided. We
know that there was a rood beam plated
with silver in S. Peter's, at Rome, in the
eighth century. In the Coptic churches
the rood beam was rare ; but the solid
screens were generally adorned with paint-
ings, of which the Crucifixion formed the
subject for the central panel over the
doorway. It is, however, quite possible
that it was the entablature of the colonnade



Plate 12.




OLD S. PETER'S, ROME. (See page 28. )



32 The Chancel and the Altar

which suggested the introduction of the
rood, rather than vice versa.

ANGLO-SAXON

The triple chancel arches in the early
Anglo-Saxon churches are thought to be
an adaptation of the colonnaded screen.
At Reculver in Kent, S. Pancras at
Canterbury, and again at Rochester,
columns were actually used for the two
middle supports ; but elsewhere piers take
the place of the columns. The later
Anglo-Saxon churches have single chancel
arches ; but the idea of a screen is to be
seen in the fact that these arches instead
of being almost the full width of the
chancel, like the apsidal arches of the
basilica, were comparatively narrow (Plate
5). Sometimes they were mere door-
ways, in which case the eastern wall of
the nave was almost solid, and cor-
responded with the Iconostasis of the
Eastern churches, as at Bradford-on-Avon.
Whether the reasons suggested are correct



Plate 13.




ffi
CJ




2;

O



34 The Chancel and the Altar

it is impossible to say. It is, however,
not improbable that the narrow opening
was due to the inability of our Saxon fore-
fathers to construct an arch of great span.

MEDIEVAL

In the early churches of the mediaeval
period the chancel arches still remained
comparatively narrow. In the small
Norman church at Ovingdean, near
Brighton (Plate 13), the width of the
opening is only 6 feet, although the
chancel itself is 15 feet wide. Often a
small window-like opening or squint was
pierced in the solid wall on either side of
the arch, similar to those at Ovingdean, but
here the squints are of a later date than the
other work. Generally the chancel open-
ings were much wider than this, although
relatively to the width of the chancel they
were narrow. The object of this, it has
been suggested, was to provide space on
either side of the opening for additional



Plate 14.




Photo'] [Cyril Elhs.

S, CHAD'S, STAFFORD : NORMAN CHANCEL ARCH.



36 The Chancel and the Altar

altars in the nave. Examples of these
small altars in the nave may be seen at
Patricio, in Wales (Plate 15). In the
aisled churches this contraction of the
opening was unnecessary, since the eastern
end of the aisles afforded the accommoda-
tion for the extra altars.

At a later period the chancel arch in-
creased in size, until it became almost of
the same width as the chancel ; and then
it disappeared altogether in some of the
fifteenth-century churches, especially in
East-Anglia and generally throughout the
south-west of England.

With the gradual widening of the
chancel arch, and its occasional disappear-
ance, the chancel structurally became more
and more open to the nave, and we are
brought back again to the conditions which
prevailed in the basilicas. Something else,
therefore, was needed to mark the dis-
tinction between the two divisions of the
church. This need was again met by the
development of a screen, though of a less



Plate 15.




Photo'] [Cyril Ellis.

PATRICIO, WALES: SCREEN AND STONE ALTAR IN
THE NAVE. (See page 36.)



38 The Chancel and the Altar

structural character. Thus it is that we
have those fine examples of rich work-
manship of a lighter and more delicate
nature than would have been possible in
the work of a more constructional nature.
The screens were generally erected
across the nave under the chancel arch ;
and, where the chancel was aisled, similar
screens divided the nave aisles from those
of the chancel. In those churches where
there was no chancel arch, and the chancel
was but a continuation of the nave, the
screens were carried right across the church
from the external wall of the north aisle
to that of the south aisle. Examples are
also to be found where the central screen
returns westwards under the north and
south nave arcades, and is then carried
northwards and southwards to the external
walls of the aisles. This was done to
enclose the eastern ends of the nave aisles
where there were no chancel aisles, as it
was here that the minor altars were placed.
A few of these screens were erected of



Plate 1 6.




Sj

C/)



I



I



4-O The Chancel and the Altar

stonework, taking the form of a light
arcade, and finished with a cornice. Ex-
amples may be seen at Bottisham, near
Cambridge, and at Bramford, Suffolk.
Others, such as those at Great Bardfield
and Stebbing, fill the whole of the opening
of the chancel, and are not unlike large
unglazed windows.

But the great majority of screens are of
a still lighter nature, being constructed of
oak. They appear to be a development
of the colonnaded screen, which, as we
have seen, was not uncommon in the
basilicas, but their elaboration was Gothic
in style instead of Classical. They were
constructed of vertical posts, framed at
the bottom into a floor-sill, and supporting
at the top a horizontal beam. A few feet
above the floor level is the transome,
another horizontal timber which forms the
top rail to the lower portion of the screen.
All these constructional timbers are most
delicately moulded and painted, and very
often enriched with niches and carving.



Screens 4 1

The lower portion of the screen is filled
in with solid panelling and with tracery ;
and in the more elaborate screens the panels
are either painted with figures of the saints
or are provided with niches for images.
The upper portion above the intermediate
rail is open, but filled with light mullions
and open traceried heads. The top beam
in many cases is hidden by a deep over-
hanging cornice, very richly and elaborately
moulded and carved.. The underside of
the heavy projecting cornice is coved, and
enriched with moulded ribs ; but very
often this coving takes the form of, what
may be described as, fan-traceried vaulting
executed in woodwork.

Nearly all these screens were at one
time furnished with lofts or platforms
about six or seven feet wide. These
necessitated protecting fronts, which were
enriched so as to be in keeping with the
lower screens. Unfortunately a very large
majority of these lofts were removed at
the time of the Reformation ; but a few



Plate 17.




Screens 43

ancient examples remain (Plate 19). The
lofts were approached by a staircase of
stone built in the wall, or by stairs of
woodwork. Many of the old stone stair-
way openings remain, even where the loft
and the screen have long since disappeared.

.The screen, or its gallery, provided a
place for the rood, which was a crucifix
with the attendant figures of our Lady
and S. John. But the rood was not
always placed on the screen : it sometimes
stood on a separate beam, or " perk,"
which was provided for the purpose.
Other figures such as angels, as well as
lights and other decorations, were also
placed on the screen or loft.

The finest examples of these screens are
to be found in Devon and Somerset, and
(of another type) in the opposite part of
the country in East Anglia. Some good
examples (of yet different types) may also
be seen in Wales and elsewhere. It is
impossible to do justice to the beauty of
the screens in any description. To see



Plate 1 8.




Photo



DETAIL OF SCREEN AT CHAWLEIGH, DEVON.
(See page 41.)



Screens 45

them is to appreciate them, and to realize
the wonderful effect that they have from
an architectural point of view. Many of
the simple fifteenth-century churches in
the West of England are " made " by
their beautiful screens. Far from shorten-
ing the church in appearance, as is some-
times supposed, they really in effect seem
to add to its length.

Although there are some examples of
thirteenth and fourteenth-century screens,
the majority remaining to us belong to the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. But
screen building did not cease at the
Reformation, for there are many fine
examples which were erected during the
seventeenth century. A few also were
erected during the century following. It
cannot, therefore, be said that the practice
ever died out. When the Prayer Book
tells us that " the chancels shall remain as
they have done in times past," it clearly
intends that the chancel should have a
screen, for " in times past " (i.e. before



Plate 19.




Photo] [Cyril Ellis.

MONTGOMERY. (See page 43. )



Screens 47

1552) they were almost universal, and the
practice never fell into desuetude. Many
a modern church would be greatly im-
proved by the addition of a screen. There
seems, however, to be the impression that
a screen is illegal ; but such is not the
case, since screens were never ordered to
be removed. In the Visitation Articles
of the seventeenth century the question is
often asked, " Is there a comely partition
betwixt your chancel and the body of the
church as is required by the law ? "

We have seen that screens were in use
in primitive times, so that, if there be any
dioceses where the chancellors have de-
cided against their introduction, it can
only be said that screens are " primitive
and ordered by the Prayer Book, but are
illegal." But few chancellors (if any)
would nowadays refuse to grant a faculty
for the erection of a screen ; and few
churches would be without one if only
congregations could be taught to appreciate
their value.



Plate 20.




The Choir and Stalls 49



CHAPTER IV
Qdoir and Stalls

THE CHOIR

THE screen marks the boundary
between the nave and the chancel. Im-
mediately within the screen of the ordinary
parish church is that portion of the chancel
known as the choir. But it was not always
so, for in the early basilicas the apse was
the sanctuary. When accommodation was
required for a choir it was provided by
placing the " choir " westwards of the
screen in the easternmost bay or bays of
the nave. There was no separate archi-
tectural division of the building. The
choir was merely a part of the nave, as
at S. Clement's, Rome (Plate 10). These
" choirs " were enclosed by low screens

E



50 The Chancel and the Altar

similar to the original low screens of the
sanctuary. Thus there were two screens,
the one enclosing the " choir " in the nave,
and the other dividing the sanctuary from
that part of the nave occupied by the choir.
Of the two, the latter was by far the more
marked, especially in the East, where it
was more solid and lofty.

This arrangement continued in the East.
But in the West, about the ninth century,
the practice began of interposing a choir
between the nave and the sanctuary. Occa-
sionally it formed a separate architectural
division of the church, as at Birkin (Plate
6) ; but more often the sanctuary was
thrown out eastwards, and the " choir "
inserted between that and the nave. This
arrangement became the usual one in
ordinary parish churches. Thus the
" choir " was transferred from the nave
to the chancel, and was located within
instead of without the screen. The greater
line of demarcation was then between the
choir and the nave rather than between



The Choir and Stalls 51

the sanctuary and the choir, as in the
basilica and in the Eastern churches.
Custom has now definitely fixed this
arrangement in the West ; it has been the
growth of centuries, and, on the whole, it
is a most convenient plan.

THE LEVELS

Another distinction between the chancel
and the nave is the difference often made
in the floor-levels. The chancel paving
is usually raised a step or two above the
level of the nave. The amount of the
difference in levels depended very largely
on the size of the building, but it never
used to be very great, excepting when there
was a crypt below. In some of our modern
churches this has been carried to great
excess, and the proportions of the chancel
have suffered largely in consequence. As
a rule a difference in level of from five to
fifteen inches will be found quite sufficient
to meet ordinary requirements. The step



Plate 21.




SUGGESTED PLAN OF CHANCEL SHOWING GENERAL

ARRANGEMENTS.



The Choir and Stalls 53

which this raising of levels necessitates
should be placed at the entrance doorway
of the screen ; and the additional step or
steps should be set in front of that in the
nave, and should not be recessed in the
floor of the choir. The usual rise given
to a step in a church is about six inches,
but it would be far more convenient if this
were reduced to five inches. Any one
accustomed to wearing a long garment
like an albe would appreciate this re-
duction.

For liturgical purposes, as well as for
practical reasons, it is advisable to have
plenty of space between these chancel
steps and the front benches of the nave
seats. It is here that " stations " are made
in processions ; and when the Litany is
said or sung in the body of the church,
instead of being sung in procession, the
faldstool, or Litany desk, should be
placed in front of the entrance to the
choir.



54 The Chancel and the Altar

CHOIR STALLS
Mediaeval Period

It must not be imagined that the " choir "
was simply provided for the singers it
was the place for the clergy who were
not officiating at the altar, and for those
in minor orders. In the monastic and
collegiate churches the members of the
Order sat here. It was here also that the
additional daily services were said or sung ;
and for this reason they became known
as the choir services or offices. The
larger parish churches, in due course,
more or less modelled their services on
the lines of the monastic and cathedral
churches, and so choirs became necessary.
Provision, therefore, had to be made for
the clergy and ministers in the way of
seats or stalls. This was done by placing
against the north and south walls rows
of stalls running east and west, so that
the occupants faced north and south. But
the higher dignitaries often sat facing



Plate 22.








s

g



56 The Chancel and the Altar

eastwards, in what are known as " returned
stalls " that is to say, stalls that return
at the western end, which extended to the
opening in the screen (Plate 22). This is -
the usual arrangement in cathedral and
monastic churches, as well as in the college
chapels of our universities. In the back
rows, as well as in their returns, the seats
were divided by means of arms or elbows,
so that each stall was independent of its
neighbour. The seat was also so arranged
that it would lift up and fall back against
the back of the stall ; when this was done
there was disclosed to view a narrow ledge
or bracket, which formed an upper seat,
known as a misencordia. The object of
the misericord was to afford relief to the
occupant of the stall by giving some
kind of support during the long periods
of standing. Many of these misericords
were quaintly carved (Plate 23, pp. 67, 8 i,
95, etc.). Above the back of the stall were
sometimes traceried canopies of very rich
design and elaborate workmanship. The



The Choir and Stalls 57

lower seats, for the inferior orders of
ministers, consisted of continuous benches,
unbroken in their length by any elbows, but
terminating with carved bench-ends. The
terminals or finials of these were nearly
always richly carved with foliage and figures ;
and, from their general shape, they are
commonly known by the term " poppy-
head." The back of these seats formed
book-rests for the occupants of the stalls
behind.

Only the cathedral, monastic,^ and
collegiate churches were able to fit: up
their choirs in this manner. Excepting in
a few of the larger parish churches, canopied
stalls were unknown, the ordinary parish
church having to be content with some-
thing of a simpler nature. A plain bench
was occasionally provided for the use of
the choirboys.

The Reformation and Post-Reformation Periods.

In pre-Reformation days, the Mass was
the people's service, and the choir services



Plate 23.




BALSHAM, CAMBS. (See page 56.)



The Choir and Stalls 59

mainly intended for the clergy and monks,
although they were undoubtedly attended
by the more devout laity. At the Reforma-
tion, when the eight choir offices were
amalgamated into the two services of
Mattins and Evensong, and were trans-
lated into the vernacular, it was thought
advisable to make the system applicable to
the laity, instead of being almost confined
to the clergy. The Book of Common
Prayer, however, contemplated no altera-
tion in the general arrangements of the
church in consequence. The chancels
were ordered to remain as they had done
in times past, and the Morning and
Evening Prayer were to " be used in the
accustomed place of the church, chapel, or
chancel." Thus the old arrangements were
to continue, but it was provided that
should any controversy on the matter
arise it was to be referred to the ordinary.
Difficulties did arise ; and, at a later period,
during the dark ages of Puritanism and of
the Hanoverian period, Morning Prayer



60 The Chancel and the Altar

ousted the Lord's service from its proper
place. The minister and the clerk were
then brought from the choir and the altar
to the nave, and a pulpit in three stages,
popularly called a " three-decker," erected
for their use (Plate 24). The lower tier
of this erection was occupied by the clerk,
from which he led the responses. The
middle desk was used by the minister for
the reading of the prayers, which were
often regarded as the introductory setting
to the more important sermon, and this
was preached from the upper stage or
pulpit. The chancel was filled with the
wealthy laity. These altered arrange-
ments were an intelligent adaptation of
the church to the needs of the times ;
but the very fact that the alterations were
needed shows clearly how contrary were
those needs to the requirements of the
Book of Common Prayer.

Modern Requirements
With the restoration of the Eucharist




BRANSCOMBE, DEVON: "THREE DECKER."
(See page 60.)



62 The Chancel and the *Altar

to its proper place in the services of the
Church, the three-decker gradually dis-
appeared. The congregation moved out
of the chancel, and the clergy returned to
their proper part of the church. Choral
services became the rule, so that a place
for the singers had to be provided. The
seats for the choir naturally took their place
against the north and south walls. But
to provide for the requirements of the
clergy was not quite so easy. In many
churches this difficulty was met by placing
the clergy in the westernmost stalls of the
back rows of the choir seats. The objection
to this is that it places the clergy behind
the respond (the half-pier attached to the
wall) of the chancel arch, and thus cuts
them off from the nave. Acoustically this
would be a good position, if only those in
the choir were to be addressed ; but, as
it is the congregation in the church that
has now to be largely considered, it is
a bad arrangement. Apart also from these
practical reasons, it is bad liturgically ; for



The Choir and Stalls 63

it must be remembered that a priest is the
representative of the people, and that he
leads them in prayer and praise. The
proper position for him, therefore, is
not that he should occupy the neutral
position of facing north (or south), but
that he should face in the same direction
as those whom he leads that is to say,
eastwards.

For these reasons, therefore, returned
stalls at the western end of the choir
would appear to be the more suitable
position, since the priest then faces east-
wards. In those parts of the service
where the congregation have to be
addressed, and not led, the minister has
only then to turn round in order to face
those to whom he speaks. The clergy also
are there separated from the lay singers,
thus marking the distinction between
the clergy and the laity which has always
prevailed in the Church. Nor should the
architectural advantages be overlooked. In
the first place, this arrangement enables



Plate 25.




Photo-]



Wyril Ellis.



EAST MARKHAM : CHANCEL,



The Choir and Stalls 65

the provision of easy access, both to the
choir seats and to the clergy stalls. And,
secondly, by breaking up the long con-
tinuous row of stalls into two shorter
lengths, placed at right angles to one
another much is gained aesthetically.

The stalls should be fixed on a raised
wooden platform. The shuffling of the
choirboys' feet on a tiled floor is very
irritating to the other occupants of the
choir. Although a strip of carpet would
obviate this, it is open to the objection
that it tends to deaden the sound of the
voices (though this is not always an evil),
and that it harbours dust, besides requiring
more attention. The platform should be
made of boards rather than of blocks,


2 4 5 6 7

Online LibraryHarold Charles KingThe chancel and the altar → online text (page 2 of 7)