Treatise on Jubés (1): Etymology

Chapter I

The various Latin names and uses of the jubés. The origin of the word ambo.

Screen (Clemente).jpg
The 12th-century screen of San Clemente, Rome, (Source)

In French we often confuse jubés with tribunes.[1] To tell the truth I have found no difference between them except that the jubés are large tribunes and tribunes are small jubés.

Screen (Tribune).JPG

Our older authors called them pulpits (pupitres) rather than jubés or tribunes, and very often they are still so-called because of the pulpits or lecterns (lutrins) that are built in the jubés to hold the books for the reader or chanter.

Screen (I Frari).jpg
The screen of the Franciscan Frari Church in Venice. Notice the pulpits at either end (Source)

Meurisse, Bishop of Madaure and Suffragan of the Church of Metz, calls them lectriers because lectors use them.[2] In Flanders where they are very numerous, they are called doxales, perhaps because the ecclesiastics sitting in choir behind them have them at their backs (dos; dorsum) when they face the altar; perhaps because tapestries are hung on them, and tapestries were called dorsale, dossale, and doxale in Late Latin;[3] or finally, perhaps from the Greek word δόξα which means glory, either because the jubés are places of glory on account of the ornate ceremonies that take place there, or because we read announcements there and the Gospel, which in St. Paul’s words is “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.”[4]

Be that as it may, the words jubé, tribune, and pupitre are from Latin. Pupitre comes from pulpitum, tribune from tribunal; jubé is the imperative form of the verb iubeo, because when the deacons or readers made their submission to the bishops or priests, asking their blessing before singing the Gospel and other readings of the divine office at the pulpit, they said “Jube domne benedicere.”

Pulpitum is from St. Cyprian[5] and St. Isidore of Seville,[6] as is tribunal;[7] it seems entirely clear that the name jubé was given to tribunes and pupitres for the reason I will explain.

Screen (Giotto, ambo).JPG
Notice the ambo situated in the rood loft, accessed by a stair, surrounded by candles.

The Latins also gave other names to the jubés. Sometimes pluteus and pluteum, lectricium, lectorium, and legitorium, analogius and analogium, which technically refer only to a pulpit or a lectern, but by transference also refer to a jubé or pulpitum because, as we noted above, pulpits and lecterns are often built into the jubés and that is where readings and chants are performed.

Exedra, suggestus, suggestum, dicterium, and auditorium mean the same as tribunal: an elevated place, a place for speaking or listening, a pulpit, a preacher’s rostrum, and finally a jubé, because formerly preaching was done from the jubés and is still done today in several churches, as we will show later on.[8]

Dic[i]torium and auditorium are found in the Latin translation of the Life of St. Thecla,[9] written in Greek by St. Basil, bishop of Seleucia, and the word ostensorium is also employed there to designate a jubé, because someone standing on the jubé is in plain sight, exposed to the eyes of everyone in attendance.

Screen (Berven)
Screen at the chapel of Notre-Dame de Berven, built in 1601. (Source)

Absis or absida,[10] which often signify a vault or arcade because often there are vaults or arcades in the semi-circle of the apse in the back of the choir, is also used for jubé in the Code of the Canons of the Church of Africa,[11] in the Letters of St. Augustine,[12] in the miracles of St. Stephen reported by Evodius,[13] in the Capitularies of Charlemagne and Louis the Fair.[14] The reason for this use is that in certain churches there were jubés elevated on supporting vaults or arcades.


Screen (F61-59_Casentino-PresentationOfChristChild_front)

Pyrgus also refers to a jubé in the inscription on the Cathedral Church of St. Savior in Ravenna: Servus Christi Piagnellus Episcopus hunc Pyrgum fecit. We will explain why later. Paul the Silent gave the name πύργος, meaning “tower,” to the jubé of the Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople, which he described in heroic verse.[15]


Screen (Church of the Evangelists, Philadelphia)
Church of the Redeemer, Philadelphia. Here the ambo is partially separated from the rood screen, but if you look closely, it can only be accessed by passing underneath the screen from the choir. (Source)


But the most usual name given to the jubés is ambo. Walafrid Strabo,[16] Alexander of Hales,[17] William Durandus, bishop of Mende,[18] Jean-Étienne Duranti,[19] M. Bellotte Dean of the Church of Laon,[20] and many other authors believe that this word comes the Latin ambire, which means “to encircle or go around,” either because the jubés are surrounded by steps on all sides, or because they surround whoever is inside on all sides. But it certainly comes from the Greek ἄμβων, which means an elevated place, a place one mounts, according to Onufrius Panivinus,[21] Scaliger,[22] Casaubon,[23] Saumaise,[24] Hospinien,[25] Vossius,[26] Fr. Morin,[27] and M. du Cange[28] who derives it from the verb ἀμβαίνω or ἀναβαίνω, which means to mount, because one has to mount several steps to get into the jubé.


Screen (Wadrau)
Screen of the Church of Sainte-Waudru at Mons, destroyed during the French Revolution. Notice the “apse-like” vaults. (Source)



Screen (Sienna).jpg
The ambo at the Duomo of Sienna. It certainly merits the name pyrgus (tower)!  (Source)

Read Part 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.


[1] Ed. note: The Latin root is tribunal, which in ancient times referred to a raised platform where magistrates and judges sat, or merely an elevated place (Cf. L&S; for the influence of Roman juridical ceremony on Christian ritual, see here). In medieval Latin, tribunal meant a reading pulpit or even a synonym for “sanctuary.” Fr. Thiers is claiming that in 17th century French usage, by extension, it could also designate the screen itself (cf. Ducange), into which the ancient ambo had by then been assumed.

[2] Book 2 of Histoire des Eveques de Mets, pg. 163.

[3] In English, a doxale is a curtain hung behind the altar, all that remains in a later age of the four curtains that once veiled the ancient ciborium on all sides.

[4] 1 Timothy 1:2.

[5] Epistle 33: “4. When this man, beloved brethren, came to us with such condescension of the Lord, illustrious by the testimony and wonder of the very man who had persecuted him, what else behooved to be done except that he should be placed on the pulpit, that is, on the tribunal of the Church; that, resting on the loftiness of a higher station, and conspicuous to the whole people for the brightness of his honour, he should read the precepts and Gospel of the Lord, which he so bravely and faithfully follows?” (New Advent) (Latin: PL).

[6] Etymologiae, Book 15: “Pulpitum, quod in eo lector vel psalmista positus in publico conspici a populo possit, quo liberius audiatur. Tribunal, eo quod inde a sacerdote tribuantur praecepta vivendi. Est enim locus in sublimi constitutus, unde universi exaudire possint. Alias tribunal a tribu denominatum, quod ad illud tribus convocetur. Analogium dictum quod sermo inde praedicetur; nam LOGOS Graece sermo dicitur; quod et ipsud altius situm est [ut in eo lector vel psalmista positus in publico conspici a populo possit, quo liberius audiatur].”

[7] Cyp., Epistle 34.

[8] In chapter 4.

[9] (PG LXXXV, 614A): “ […] in dicterio comperui, hoc est, in loco unde verba facturi cernendos se exhibent; sive ambonem, sive suggestum, sive auditorium appelles [….].”

[10] Ed. note: I am not entirely convinced by Fr. Thiers’ examples here, though it is true that the word apse classically had various meanings, one of which could designate the ciborium or the entire sanctuary (Cf. Du Cange): “The term is sometimes applied to a canopy over an altar; a dome; the arched roof of a room; the bishop’s seat in old churches; a reliquary; a recess, semicircular in plan, covered over with a vault in the shape of a semi-dome or any other description of roof” (Catholic Encyclopedia).

[11] Can. 43: “That to penitents the times of their penance shall be assigned by the will of the bishop according to the difference of their sins; and that a presbyter shall not reconcile a penitent without consulting the bishop, unless the absence of the bishop urges him necessarily thereto. But when of any penitent the offence has been public and commonly known, so as to have scandalized the whole Church, he shall receive imposition of the hand before the apse.”

[12] Epistle 23 ad Maximin. Episc.: “In futuro Christi iudicio, nec absidae gradatae [….]” (but Du Cange interprets this as a reference to the bishop’s seat); and Epistle 125 ad Albinam: “Dicebam ego quibus poteram, qui ad nos in absidem honoratiores et graviores ascenderant [….]. (Also ambiguous).

[13] Book 1, Chapter 3.

[14] Book 5, art. 53: “In consilio Carthaginensi, de eadem re praecipitur, ut si cuiusquam poenitentis publicum et vulgatissumum crimen est, quod universam commoverit Ecclesiam, ante absidem manus ei imponatur.”

[15] Ed.: Descriptione S. Sophiæ n. 75. Other examples by Du Cange.

[16] De rebus Ecclesiasticis, Chapter 6

[17] Sum. Theolog. p. 4 q. 10; Tractatus de Officiis Missae.

[18] Rationale, Book 1, Chapter 1.34: “Analogium etiam dicitur, quia in eo verbum Dei legitur et enuntiatur. “Λόγος” enim graece, verbum, vel ratio dicitur. Quod dicitur etiam ambo, ab ambiendo, quia intrantem ambiet et cingit. De quo in quarta parte sub titul. DE EVANGELIIO dicetur.” Book 4, Chapter 24.17

[19] De Ritibus Ecclesiae Catholicae, Book 2, Chapter 23.13.

[20] Observationes ad Ritus Ecclesiae Laudunensis rediv., p. 424, col. 1, n. 22.

[21] In interpret. vocum Ecclesiast. quae obscura vel barbara videntur.

[22] Conjectan. in Varr.,

[23] Animadv. in Athen.

[24] Exercitat. ad Solin

[27] De Poenitentia, Book 6, chapter 1.9

[28] Glossarium, V. Ambo

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