The chancel is the space around the altar, including the choir stalls and the sanctuary at the east end of a traditional Christian church building.
A chancel arch indicates the separation of the church body (nave) from the chancel. The current chancel arch dates from the 15th century.
The chancel arch from the 12th century church was unearthed when there was need to repair the south support for the chancel arch.
In his book ‘Annals of Middlewich’ CF Lawrence writes ‘Various fragments of Norman sculpture were found embedded in the south side of the chancel arch on the latter being taken down to the foundation to be rebuilt. Some of these stones are enriched with the Norman Beak-Head ornament, Zigzag Band and Alternate Billet moulding decorations. The stones found fitted together and formed an arch with a 9ft span’. There are sketches of the arch in his books ‘Annals of Middlewich’ and ‘Bygone Middlewich’.
The 4 round pillars at the east end of the nave date from the 12th century church and the 2 pillars with the corbels would have supported the rood screen:-
Before the Reformation (mid 16th century) a common feature in the church was an ornate partition between the chancel and the nave, this was known as the rood screen. In St Michael and All Angels church, there would have been a rood beam between the corbels, and a rood loft fitted between the beam and the screen. The rood loft would have held any relics the church had been blessed with and it would have held the Great Rood, a representation of the Crucifixion.
The rood screen was a physical and symbolic barrier, separating the chancel (the domain of the clergy), from the nave where lay people gathered to worship.
At the Reformation, the Reformers sought to destroy abused images that had been the focus of superstitious adoration, thus no mediaeval Rood survives in Britain. They were removed under Edward VI in 1547, restored by Queen Mary and finally removed again under Elizabeth.
The sketch is an artists’ impression of how the rood screen may have looked based on the position of the corbels and the chancel arch.