Word of the Week: reredos

This week’s word is reredos. (And no, it doesn’t mean to do the redo over again!) Earlier this week, my husband and I took a short trip to St. Louis, which is only about 4 hours drive from Chicago (without stops). We visited some lovely churches there, and I will post pictures of them later. One of the churches, the Episcopalian Christ Church Cathedral, has an interesting feature called reredos. I had read a little bit about it beforehand and was anxious to see it for myself.

I also looked up the definition and found out that the correct pronunciation is approximately REAR – dahs. Its origin is Anglo-French, from the 14th century. It came into use in Middle English, as an alteration of Anglo-French areredos, equivalent to Middle French arere behind (see arrear ) + dos back (< Latin dorsum) (from dictionary.com.).

The definition given in dictionary.com is as follows:

  1. a screen or a decorated part of the wall behind an altar in a church.
  2. the back of a fireplace or of a medieval open hearth.

I was picturing something that would look like a screen, so when I entered the church I wasn’t sure whether what I was seeing was the reredos or not. It was a large carved panel behind the altar, depicting different aspects of the life of Jesus.


There were some workmen in the church moving things around for Holy Week, supervised by whom I assumed was the pastor. He approached me and I told him of my interest in the reredos. He told me that a wealthy woman who belonged to this church in the early 20th century had visited Europe and saw examples of reredos there, which she found to be so beautiful that she decided to commission one for Christ Church Cathedral back home in St. Louis. The pastor also got me some information on the history of the church as well as a diagram of what is on the panel.

In the Self-Guided Tour written by Jim McGahey, facilities manager, he describes the reredos as the “crowning glory of the Cathedral.” He wrote: “This altar screen is similar to those screens in both St. Alban’s Abbey Cathedral and Winchester Cathedral in England, and was carved between 1909 and 1911 by Harry Hems at his studio in Exeter, England. Because of its connection with these two ancient English cathedrals, we have a stone from each set into the fabric of our building.”

Below are close ups that I took of different parts of the reredos.

KODAK Digital Still Camera
Nativity scene
KODAK Digital Still Camera
Center: Jesus on the cross, flanked by Mary (on left), St. John (on right), with angels above.
Left side: Jesus’ disciples
Right side: Jesus’ disciples



4 thoughts on “Word of the Week: reredos

  1. I knew this word, having seminaried as an Episcopalian, but the pictures of the reredos in the cathedral are amazing!

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