VAGANTES CONFERENCE: Session 1: Performance & Ritual
The Performance of Separation at Escomb Church
Ashely Lonsdale Cook (University of Wisconsin – Madison)
This paper was part of a case study in Ms. Cook’s doctoral thesis which focuses on one of the few intact Anglo-Saxon stone churches. Cook focused on the use of curtains as spacial boundaries and how they affected the worshippers experiences during the liturgy.
Bede mentions use of certain colours, materials and curtain placement that shape the worshippers experience. Jarrow, 35 miles East of Escomb, and Bede’s church tends to be focused on more than Escomb. Due to their close proximity, they shared and exchanged ideas. In the nave of the church visual participation was difficult. It was possible that there was a curtain across the doorway so that worshippers could not view the mystery of the Eucharist but seeing the priest perform this part of the Mass may not have been necessary for the faithful to see. Covering sanctuary barriers were often used, like sanctuary screens. In the 13th century, Rood screens were used to separate the apse from the nave of the Church, completely shielding the sanctuary.
The use of curtains dates back to the 5th century, for example, a mosaic from Ravenna, Italy (San Apollinaire Nuovo) dating to 535 A.D. depicts curtains as part of the performance. Cook also spoke about the use of altar cloths in liturgy where the performance on the Eucharist took place, and the importance of the materials and colours used in the cloths. The image of the veil/curtain in Anglo-Saxon spirituality has more meaning than the priests’ performance as the depiction of the separation of the material and spiritual world. In 1968, an archeological dig unearthed a piece of stone fragment for a curtain rod. This may lend support to the use of a chancel curtain.
The large windows were later additions and not part of the original Anglo-Saxon structure. The archeological dig unearthed stained glass. Some light would have shone through but not very brightly. It is difficult to study curtains due to the lack of surviving textiles.