screen, in architecture, partition or enclosure not extending to the ceiling; usually a structure in stone, wood, or metal. It frequently serves to mark the boundaries of portions of churches and cathedrals. The choir screen or chancel screen, the most usual form, separates the choir or chancel from the body of the church. In many medieval cathedrals the choir screen was a richly decorated structure of pierced stonework, often with sculpture. The screens of the cathedrals of Chartres and Albi in France and of York, Lincoln, and Durham in England are especially noteworthy. Many English parish churches contain fine screens of carved and painted wood. In the basilican churches of Italy, such as St. Mark's, Venice, the chancel front was often marked by an elaborate inlaid marble parapet wall. With the coming of the Renaissance the constructing of chancel screens became rare except in Spain, where rejas of ironwork or bronze were extensively employed (see grille and rejería). In Greek Christian churches, the choir screen takes the form of a solid partition, the iconostasis, decorated with holy images (whence its name) and usually provided with three doors. It entirely separates the sanctuary from the body of the church and conceals from the congregation the altar and the celebration of Mass. The rood screen is a more elaborate form of choir screen that bears the rood or crucifix. A jube is a choir screen equipped with balconies for reading or preaching. A reredos is a wall or screen behind the high altar. As an article of furniture, the folding screen is of great antiquity, dating in China from the 2d cent. B.C. Widely used to adorn palaces and mansions, the screens of China and Japan were often gorgeous conceptions with carved wood frames, their panels of rich textiles or inlaid with jade and precious metals. The use of the folding screen, often showing East Asian influences in its construction, materials, and design, has continued to the present day.
See F. Bond, Screens and Galleries in English Churches (1908); A. Vallance, English Church Screens (1936).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.