Whatever Happened to French Rood Screens? Fr. Thiers’ Dissertation Ecclésiastique sur les Jubés

Interior Jules Victor Genisson, Vue intérieure de l'eglise de Saint- Gommaire
Jules Victor Genisson, View of the interior of Saint- Gommaire Church

On the heels of Monday’s general introduction to the jubé/rood screen, we now introduce a new translation, Fr. Jean-Baptiste Thiers’ Treatise on Jubés, a polemical treatise written in protest of the widespread destruction of rood screens and ambos led by the Gallican episcopacy and canonical chapters during the 17th century. Interested readers should also see our post on the ancient Roman origins of the chancel screen.

Fr. Thiers’ treatise is one of the first systematic attempts to understand the origin, development, and use of the rood screen. Like his other works On Altars and On Choirs, its aim is to explain and defend the Gothic ecclesiastical architecture of France against an aggressive “Baroquification” that often destroyed the ancient elements that once separated the sanctuary and the nave and defined the liturgical experience of Christians for most of history.

The Dissertation seems to have been a source and inspiration for Pugin’s own Treatise on Chancel Screens and Rood Lofts, which makes frequent mention of “the learned Fr. Thiers.” Pugin’s title introduces the difficulty involved in translating the French term jubé. A fuller etymology follows in the treatise itself, but suffice it to say that jubé is not entirely equivalent to our English rood screen, since it also refers to other types of screens, walls, ambos, and pulpits. A more cumbersome rendering of this title could be: Treatise on All Manner of Screens, Pulpits, Lecturns, Lofts, and Ambos. 

See more chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 29


Dissertation ecclésiastique sur les jubés


A Treatise on Jubés

by Fr. Jean-Baptiste Thiers

(Coignard, 1688)


Author’s Preface

The liberties that have been granted in recent times to destroy the jubés from a number of French churches can proceed from only two sources: either that the people involved do not understand the uses for which the jubés are made, or because they have no affection for the ancient practices of the Church.

This lack of understanding and of affection have resulted in the low view that is generally taken of jubés. They are regarded as useless ornaments, irregular protrusions, and inconvenient obstacles which rob the faithful of a view of the holy altars and prevent them from contemplating the most august Mysteries at their leisure. In this conception, it is not enough merely to abolish them from our memory. Rather, it has now become an honorable thing to raze them to the ground.

But in this we have not had sufficient regard for the reverence due to sacred antiquity and have distanced ourselves from the spirit and tradition of the Church.

That is what I attempt to show in this treatise, where after explaining the names, locations, forms, usages, and antiquity of the jubés, I will show the error involved in destroying them and the obligation we have to rebuild those that have been taken down and to preserve those that are still standing.

In these pages I often call those who burn, smash, and destroy the jubésambonoclasts.” This word is my own coinage and I am rather hesitant to suggest it, since I have no authority to introduce new words into our language. But it has seemed to me so expressive that I prefer to be criticized for being its author that not to have made a try of it, if only to avoid the paraphrase that I would have been obliged to make. Granted, the word is not as common as iconoclasts, but it is founded on the same analogy. For iconoclast comes from the Greek ἐικὼν which means image, and κλάειν which means break, smash. Ambonoclast comes from the Greek ἄμβων, which means jubé, and from the same verb κλάειν.

All the learned men I have consulted about this word have agreed with me that it is proper and acceptable. It has even pleased one man of the Realm who knows the genius and character of our language, one M. Ménage, so much that I have been assured that he will include it in the new edition he is preparing of Origins of the French Language.[1]

Rood Screen


[1] A promise that M. Ménage seems not to have kept, since the entry appears neither in the 1694 edition nor the 1750 edition, though the latter has an entry for “ambo.”

11 thoughts on “Whatever Happened to French Rood Screens? Fr. Thiers’ Dissertation Ecclésiastique sur les Jubés

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