The Jubé (2): The Location of the Ambo in Latin and Greek Churches

What is a Jubé (Rood Screen)?
Chapter 1

Chapter II
The forms of jubés, ancient and modern

Jubés have not always been situated in the same place in the church.

The one mentioned in the Apostolic Constitutions[1] was located between the clergy and the people, in the middle of the Church, in an elevated place: in medio Lector ex loco edito legat libros Moysis, etc.

Cardinal Leo, Bishop of Ostia, speaking about Desiderius, the 37th abbot of Monte Cassino (later pope Victor III), says[2] that he built a very beautiful jubé of wood outside the choir of the Church of Monte Cassino: Sed et gradum nihilominus ligneum eiusdem operis extra chorum in ambonis modum satis pulchrum constituit. He does not mention its location in the nave, and perhaps it was outside the choir in the way that the jubés of French churches are, at the top of the nave and below the choir.

Cardinal Rasponi, once a canon of St. John Lateran, says there were formerly two jubés of marble in the middle of this patriarchal church, close to where the tomb of Pope Martin V is currently situated. Superioribus saeculis in huius navis medio, juxta situm quem occupat iam Martini Papa V sepulchrum, erant pulpita duo marmorea, qua ambones vocant.[3]

The jubé of San Pancrazio in Rome is on the Gospel side of the nave; that of the church of Sant’Ambrogio in Milan, the principal church after the cathedral, is on the Epistle side; and that of San Salvatore in Ravenna is on the same side, as I gather from the Italian voyage of Fr. Chastelain in these terms:

“At 17:00 on Saturday, 20th October 1668, we left for Ravenna where we arrived at midday….I first saw the metropolitan church of San Salvatore….The pulpit on the right side of the nave is flanked by two columns and of very beautiful white marble, with a straight set of stairs on each side. In front and behind I could read the words: Servus Christi Piagnellus Episcopus, hunc pyrgum fecit. The pulpit had been made for a jubé and the Gospel is still chanted from here on certain days.”[4]

Baroque pulpit in St. Nikolai Church, Wismar, Germany : Stock Photo
St. Nikolai Church, Wismar, Germany (Source)

Fr. Morin supposed that all the ancient jubés were built in the same location as found in these three famous churches, i.e. toward the middle of the nave, just like the preacher’s pulpit today:

“The ambo was constructed in the same place where the preachers’ pulpit is built today, since the purpose of both structures was the same.”[5]

M. de Merbes was of the same opinion:

“An ambo was a small, high, and elevated structure usually built in the same place where preachers’ pulpits are erected today.”[6]

For two reasons I am dissatisfied with these accounts.

The first reason is that the jubés of most Western churches are in an entirely different location: separating the choir from the nave, crossing the whole length of the choir, and running perpendicular to the altar. Anyone with eyes can see this for himself.

The second reason is that the jubés of Eastern Churches were nearly all placed in facing the sanctuary, that is, facing the door in the middle of the sanctuary. Simeon of Thessalonica gives evidence of this:

“The ambo in front of the sanctuary reminds us of the stone that was rolled away from the tomb. The ambo is visible from the door of the tribunal: the most holy tribunal is toward the east, and on the opposite side, if the space allows for it, the ambo is placed.”[7]

St. Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople, notes the location of the jubés with greater precision when he says: “The ambo is placed in front of the door to the tribunal.”[8]

Arcudius, a priest of the church of Corfu, also locates them facing the door of the sanctuary in the middle of the nave:

“For the Greeks, the ambo is a raised area just outside the sanctuary. Their custom is to erect several stairs and a flat platform just in front of the Beautiful Gates, where they place the bishop’s seat. These are like the altar stairs in the Latin Church. They call this area the ἄμβων, ambo.”[9]

It was necessary that the ambos be built in the Eastern Churches in this manner because the Pontifical of the Greek Church[10] says that after the deacon, preceded by four other deacons, has ascended the jubé to read the Gospel, the officiating patriarch turns toward the West until the end of the reading; and that the second deacon, who holds the patriarch’s pallium in his left hand, after saying “Wisdom, be attentive, listen to the Holy Gospel,” turns in the same way and looks at the deacon in the jubé:

“The patriarch turns toward the West awaiting the end of the Gospel [….] The second deacon, also looking West, i.e. toward the deacon in the ambo [….].”

If the patriarch and second deacon turn toward the West to hear the Gospel, is this not clear evidence that the jubé which the first deacon ascended is in the same direction, and not to the South or North, the two directions where the preachers’ pulpits are located in our churches today?

It is certain, furthermore, that the jubé of Hagia Sophia, which was the most magnificent of all the jubés, was in the middle of the church facing the great door of the sanctuary. Paul the Silentiary, who lived in the time of the emperor Justinian, renders faithful testimony to this fact;[11] and du Cange, who records it, is of the same opinion when he remarks:

“Hence we can gather that the ambo stood in the middle of the church, and was not fixed to the pillars on either side, unlike the large pulpits of modern churches [….] Thus the ambo stood in front of the large holy door, some little distance away.”[12]

The Greeks of more recent times have usually placed their jubés in the middle of the church, as far as they are able. But when the arrangement of the space does not permit it, they have not hesitated to place it on the left or right side. Fr Goar, an Apostolic Missionary in the East, who has been an eye-witness of this fact, assures us in these terms:

“An ambo was built in the middle of the church or to one side [….] Near the solea, in the middle of the church (although in some churches it stands on the right or left as the space permits) an ambo is erected.”[13]

Thus it seems that jubés were not all found in the same place as modern preachers’ rostra. In fact, I have found seven different locations. This is not to mention the kind that is built above the main portals of certain churches, called a gloria because every year at the end of the Palm Sunday procession the Gloria, laus, et honor is sung from there. There are three of these at Reims, one in the cathedral church between the two towers, another in the Abbey of St. Rémi, and the third in the Abbey of St. Denys.

Seven Locations of the Jubé

1. The Full-Length Rood Loft

Rood Screen 's Hetogenbosh
St. John’s Cathedral, ‘s Hertogenbosch, Netherlands

One type is found between the choir and the nave, crossing the whole width of the choir. These are the largest and most well known of all jubés, especially in the West. It is this type of jubé that Fr. Cabassout treats in his Notice des Conciles, when he said: “The ambo stood between the nave—also called the bosom (gremium)—and the sanctuary. It had flights of stairs running down both sides.”[14]

2. The Double-Ambo

Screen (San Cesario).jpg
Chiesa San Cesareo, Rome

A second type is also between the choir and the nave, on both sides of the main door of the choir, one to the right and the other to the left, but they cross only part of the width of the choir. There are two of this type at Sens in the cathedral church and the parish church of St. Hilaire; in Paris in the parish churches of St. Gervais, St. Jean-en-Gréve, and St. Nicolas-des-Champs; in Milan in the cathedral church and in St. Miniato of Florence. Clement VIII built two similar ones in the church of San Cesareo in Rome, and Cardinal Baronius in the church of San Nereo. There are two in the Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, but a little farther away from the high altar.

Screen (San_Miniato_al_Monte_Florence_Italy).jpg
Chiesa San Minatio, Florence. Perhaps only one of the jubés has survived here, on the Epistle side.
Ambo miniato.jpg
The Epistle ambo, turned toward the north
Benevento Cathedral, before its destruction in WWII. You can see how these could easily combine with a screen  (Source)

3. Central Ambo

The interior of the parish church of Ste Cérotte in the 19th century. The ambo Thiers mentions has been removed.

A third type is also between the choir and the nave but in the center of the choir enclosure. They have a door on each side to enter into the choir, one on the right and the other on the left. There are not many of this kind, but there is one in the parish church of Ste Seraute [Ste Cérotte] near St. Calais in Maine. They preach, give announcements, and chant the Epistle and Gospel there on major feast days.

4. An Ambo inside the Choir

A fourth type is at the entrance of the choir and above the seats of the ecclesiastics or religious, on the left side from the entrance. The only ones I know of are in the churches of Chartres and Bayeux, and the abbatial church of Royaumont, seven leagues from Paris. In Bayeux they chant the Lessons of Matins there every day including feast days. The one at Chartres is usually called la Légende, where they also chant the Lessons of Matins for every office except the Office of the Dead, as is done at Royaumont. There was once a second jubé in Royaumont on the right side. It is currently blocked up, and has been so for several centuries.

5. The Single Ambo in the Nave, Epistle or Gospel Side

san pancrazio
A drawing of the ambo in San Pancrazio, Rome, destroyed during the Napoleonic occupation

Another type is near the middle of the nave, either on the Gospel side, as at San Pancrazio at Rome, or on the Epistle side, as at Sant’Ambrogio in Milan and San Salvatore in Ravenna. Fr. Morin and M. de Merbes mention these jubés, but they are not as common as they supposed. They have the same placement as our preachers’ pulpits and there are some of this type in Greek churches today, as we have recently heard from Fr. Goar.

Screen (Torcello)
Chiesa San Torcello, with Gospel-side ambo.

6. In the Schola’s Choir

Screen (San Clemente 2)
Chiesa San Clemente, Rome

Another type are slightly above the schola’s choir and at the top of the nave, as at San Clemente in Rome, where there is one on the left for the Gospel and two on the right, one for the Epistle and the other, lower and smaller, for the Prophecies.*[15]

7. The Eastern Type: Single Ambo in the Center of the Nave

Ambo (Greece, Kalabaka).png
Church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, Kalabaka, Greece (Source): “Certain features of the Byzantine liturgy are still traditionally done in the middle of the nave, in memory of this ancient arrangement, the most notable being the final prayer, which is still called the ambo prayer.”

The final type are near the middle of the nave across from the only or main door of the sanctuary. We have heard from St. Germanos of Constantinople, Paul the Silentiary, Simeon of Thessalonica, Arcudius, Fr. Goar and M. du Cange, and that is sufficient evidence of this type. The plans that Fr. Goar[16] and M. de Schelstrate[17] have made for us of the eastern churches shows this even more clearly. This is also what M Habert, Bishop of Vabres, had in mind when he places the jubé in the middle of the congregation:

“The ancient situation of the ambo was certainly the same as it is now: outside the sanctuary, outside the βῆμα or sacrarium, separated from the nave by a wall and screen, and in the middle of the congregation.”[18]

Ambo (Western, central)
A reading in the same location, but in a Latin church, in A Sermon on Charity (Source)

This arrangement seems to be peculiar to the churches of the orient, where there was, additionally, a place called in Greek the σωλίας, σολίας, σωλέα, σωλία, σολίω, σωλῶον, σολῶν, and σωλεὺς, and in Latin soleus[19] in the masculine and solea in the feminine.

Screen (Solea)
Marble solea in front of the iconostasis at Moni Arkadiou, Crete (Source)

It is not easy to say precisely what the solea was, nor where it was situated, not only because, according to Fr. Goar,[20] it is found so rarely today in their churches, but also for the reasons M. Allatio notes in the second letter he wrote from Rome to Fr. Morin in 1643, concerning the churches of the modern Greeks.[21] M. du Cange is convinced that it was between the jubé and the sanctuary: “The solea came between the bema and the ambo.” And he refers us to what he said above.

It seems one would not be straying far from the truth to say that the solea was the place immediately outside the choir going towards the nave. This is at least M. Habert’s theory. “The solea,” he says, “is a place built in front of the royal or main central doors of the sanctuary.”[22] “The solea is the area immediately outside the sanctuary before its royal doors.”[23]

And Fr Goar says, similarly, that the solea was the place one first came to when exiting the sanctuary, and was where the bishop or priest distributed Holy Communion to the faithful. This is supported by the accounts of St Jerome and St John Chrysostom:

“The solea is located located immediately outside the sanctuary, either outside the middle sacred door, or the south doors, or the north one across from the prothesis [….] The truth is that the σωλέα is the throne of Christ the Emperor who comes out the sacred doors to the people receiving communion.”[24]

Fr Cabassout agrees with this, writing, “In Greek churches there was a place between the ambo and sanctuary which is called σω[λ]εῖον, σωλεὺς, or σωλία. Its stairs were somewhat higher than the ambo itself or the choir. Those who were prohibited access to the sanctuary (i.e. all the faithful who were not members of the holy clergy or even clergy who on account of some fault have been reduced to the lay state) came just up to this point for communion. The solea thus lay between the ambo and the chancel of the sanctuary, in which are the sacred doors.”[25]

 Since today one exits from the sanctuary or choir of Eastern Churches by three doors—the middle one, which is the main door and the largest; the one on the right; and the one on the left, leading to the Table of Oblation—it seems that the solea extended along these three doors, and might have even crossed the entire front of the sanctuary or choir. And so it was much more extensive than the jubé. In any case, it was necessary for the jubé to be at a considerable distance from the doors of the sanctuary, since between the jubé and the sanctuary there stood not only the throne of Jesus Christ, solea, but also the place for the faithful and that for fourth-degree penitents, as we shall describe hereafter.


[1] Book 2, Chapter 57: “In the middle, let the reader stand upon some high place: let him read the books of Moses, of Joshua the Son of Nun, of the Judges, and of the Kings and of the Chronicles, and those written after the return from the captivity; and besides these, the books of Job and of Solomon, and of the sixteen prophets.”

[2] Chronic. Cassin. Book 3, Chapter 20.

[3] In De Basilica et Patriarchio Lateranensi, Book 1, Chapter 7. He continues: “Qua forma supersunt, hodieque in basilicis quibusdam Romanis antiquis, et in ecclesia praesertim sancti Clementis, in iisque tum Epistola, tum Evangelium recitabatur [….] Inter eadem duo pulpita erat chorus canonicorum cum altari, in quo ipsi sacrificium missae celebrabant; nam super aram maximam solus Romanus Pontifex, aut cardinales episcopi eius permissu sacra faciebant. Quae omnia sustulit Martinus Quintus, cum novum pavimentum consterneret.”

[4] Vol. 1, pg. 149.

[5] De Poenit., Book 6, Chapter 1, n. 11.

[6] Sum. Christ., vol. 2, Dissert. 4 de Poenit., q. 74.

[7] Liber de Templo et Missa; Liber de Sacram.

[8] Theoria rerum Ecclesiasticarum.

[9] Book 6, chapter 2 of De Concordia ecclesiae occidentis et orientis.

[10] P. 4 Liturg. ordin. de consecrat. Episc. p. 72.

[11] Description of Hagia Sophia, n. 74. Cited in Du Cange.

[12] Unde colligi videtur ambonem media in aede exstitisse, neque ut hodie maiora ecclesiarum pulpita, utramque pilam attigisse [….] proinde exstitit ambo ante portam sacram maiorem, etsi ab ea aliquanto longius distaret.

[13] Not. in eucholog. in ordin. sacri minist. p. 13 et 19.

[14] Notit. Concilior. in 8 (1668). Diatrib. de V. stib. eccles. sit. par. & for. p. 351.

[15] The supposed “prophecy ambo” of San Clemente was adduced as proof that the Roman rite anciently had three readings. In fact, it was an ambo for the leader of the schola cantorum. The eminently erudite and learnèd Mr. Gregory DiPippo, Esq., pontificates imperiously upon the matter here.

[16] Not. in Eucholog., pg. 21

[17] Dissert. 4 in Concil. Antioch., Chapter 4, n. 5 inter, pg. 186 and 187.

[18] Ad part. 6 Liturgia Ordin. Observat. I p. 57.

[19] Ed. note: Du Cange is not actually quite sure about this term, making it a place in front of the confession, perhaps a synonym for ambo.

[20] Not. in Ord. sacri minist., pg. 18.

[21] Pg. 170-173.

[22] Solea locus stratus ante januas regias seu principes et medias sacrarii (Nota margin. ad part. 9 Liturg. ord., pg. 179.)

[23] Solea, locus statim extra Sanctuarium ad illius januas Regias (Not. margin. ad Coronat. Imperat., 1, 606).

[24]E Sanctuario egressis, sive mediis sacris foribus, sive porta australi et dextra, sive boreali, quae prothesi opposita est et sinistra, confestim Soleas occurrit…veritas σωλέαν, solium Christi Imperatoris ad populum pro communione recipienda extra sacras fores prodeuntis esse asserit.”Not. Concil. diat. de vet. eccles. sit. part. et for., pg. 352.

[25] In Ecclesiis Græcorum locus erat Amboni et Sanctuario intermedius, qui nunc σω[λ]εῖον, nunc σωλεὺς legitur appellatus aut σωλία, eratque ipso Ambone, seu choro gradibus aliquot altior. Atque eo usque procedebant ad Eucharisticam communionem illi qui Sanctuarii prohibebantur ingressu, scilicet quicumque fidelium non erant de sacro Clero, vel ipsi etiam sacri Clerici qui ob aliquam culpam redacti fuerant ad Laïcam communionem. Solea itaque interjacebat inter Ambonem et Sanctuarii Cancellos, in quibus Cancellis apud Græcos erant sancræ portæ.

6 thoughts on “The Jubé (2): The Location of the Ambo in Latin and Greek Churches

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