One of the standard features that identifies a church sanctuary as “English Use” is the appearance of a particular feature called a riddel post. These are two posts that stand at the north and south horns of the altar and have curtains (the “riddels” from whence the name comes) that extend back to the dorsal, the curtain mounted on the back wall right above the altar.
Like many of the features that adorn the English/Sarum Uses, this wasn’t actually a distinctively English characteristic. Instead that which is “English” tends to be that which is 1) pre-Baroque and 2) common to many of the diocesan uses in England and parts of northwestern Europe, especially France.
Recall that the English Use people of the later half of the 19th an early twentieth century were arguing a position against two different opponents. On one hand, they rejected the opinion of their Romanizing Ritualist colleagues that proper “catholic” expression should mimic the aesthetic of the Roman churches of the day which were Baroque or Rococo. On the other hand, they were arguing against the Low Church party who decried any ornamentation as a form of Popery. The English Use position was that, contra both the Romanizers and the neo-Puritans, they were the only ones who were holding properly to the rubrics of the Prayer Book since they were conforming their chancels to the Ornaments Rubric of the BCP which stated that chancels and vestments should be as they were in the second year of Edward the Sixth. So, they were in essence reviving a Renaissance (perhaps even early Mannerist?) aesthetic.
What prompted this post was the new background at the Breviary. For Lent, I’ve chosen to shift away from the leaves from the Little Office of the BVM that I’ve had up and I substituted some pages from the Office of the Dead. During today’s collect my attention was somehow caught by the image of the funeral mass and I realized that the altar in the picture had a nice set of riddels and riddel posts. As a point of reference, this image was taken from the famous Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry and is probably the work of the Dutch Limbourg brothers or someone in their workshop from around 1416. (It’s from the WikiMedia Commons and is believed to not be under copyright.)
Here’s the image. Notice two things: first, the riddels and their posts. Second, note the directions that the angels are facing atop the riddels. Normally they face outward towards the congregation whereas here they face one another. A friend and I had been discussing whether angels facing were an authentic pose and, if so, what that indicated in terms of the classical authenticity of Dearmer’s “open position” where the deacon and subdeacon face both the celebrant and one another. This image is indeed a period attestation of both inward facing angels and, presumably, the open position.