There are two common meanings of the word "reredos". In general architecture, the word can mean the back of an open hearth of a fireplace or a screen placed behind a table.
In more common religious usage, a reredos (also spelled raredos) is a screen or decoration behind the
altarin a church, usually depicting religious iconographyor images. It can be made of stone, wood, metal, ivory, or a combination of materials. The images may be painted, carved, gilded, composed of mosaics, and/or embedded with niches for statues. Sometimes a tapestryis used, or other fabric such as silkor velvet.
The term is derived from the a Middle English term which is derived from an Anglo-Norman 14th century term "areredos", from "arere" behind +"dos" back, from Latin "dorsum". In French and sometimes in English, this is called a
retable(in Spain a "retablo" etc).
The usage of the term, and distinction with
retable, in English (especially Anglicanusage) differs from that in other languages. Many English "reredoses" would be called "retables" elsewhere.Fact|date=July 2007
The retable may have become part of the reredos when an altar was moved away from the wall. For altars that are still against the wall, the retable often sits on top of the altar, at the back, particularly when there is no reredos (a dossal curtain or something similar is used instead). The retable is also where the altar cross, flowers and "office light" type candlesticks sit.
Although the term dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries, it was nearly obsolete until revived in the 19th century.
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