"Rood" is an archaic word for "pole", from Anglo-Saxon rōd "pole", specifically "crucifix", from Proto-Germanic *rodo, cognate to Old Saxon rōda, Old High German ruoda "rod"; the relation of rood to rod, from Anglo-Saxon rodd "pole" is unclear; the latter was perhaps influenced by Old Norse rudda "club").
It is confusingly called an acre in some ancient contexts.
Rood also refers to a British unit of linear measure between 16.5 and 24 feet. It is related to the German Rute (12.36 to 12.47 feet) and Denmark's rode (12.34 feet)
In the meaning "crucifix", rood usually refers to a sculpture or painting of the cross with Christ hanging on it. More precisely, "the Rood" refers to the Cross, the specific wooden cross used in Christ's crucifixion. The word remains in use in some names, such as Holyrood Palace and the Anglo-Saxon poem The Dream of the Rood. The phrase "by the rood" was used in swearing, e.g. "No, by the rood, not so" in Shakespeare’s ''Hamlet (Act 3, Scene 4).
In church architecture a rood screen is a wooden or stone screen, usually separating the chancel or choir from the nave. The screen may be elaborately carved and was often richly painted and gilded. It supported a large cross or crucifix (the rood), sometimes with attendant figures. Rood screens are not unique to Britain: they are found in Christian churches in many parts of Europe; they are the Western equivalent of the Byzantine templon beam , which developed into the Eastern Orthodox iconostasis. Some rood screens incorporate a rood loft, a narrow gallery which could be used by singers or musicians. An alternative type of screen is the Pulpitum, as seen in Exeter Cathedral, which is near the main altar of the church.
The rood itself provided a focus for worship, most especially in Holy Week, when worship was highly elaborate. During Lent the rood was veiled; on Palm Sunday it was revealed before the procession of palms and the congregation knelt before it. The whole Passion story would then be read from the rood loft, at the foot of the crucifix, by three ministers.
No original medieval rood now survives in a church in the United Kingdom . Most were deliberately destroyed as acts of iconoclasm during the English Reformation and the English Civil War, when many rood screens were also removed. Today, in many British churches, the rood stair which gave access to the gallery is often the only remaining sign of the former rood screen and rood loft.
An engraving from 1823 shows the dressed rood cross as a more open, foliage-covered framework, similar to certain types of corn dolly, with a smaller attendant figure of similar appearance. Folklorists have commented on the garlands' resemblance to human figures and noted that they replaced statues of St Mary and St James which had stood on the rood screen until they were destroyed during the Reformation. Until the 1850s, the larger garland was carried in a May Day procession, accompanied by morris dancers, to the former Benedictine priory at Studley (as the statue of St Mary had been until the Reformation). Meanwhile the women of the village used to carry the smaller garland through Charlton, though it seems that this ceased some time between 1823 and 1840, when an illustration in J. H. Parker's Glossary of Architecture shows only one garland, centrally positioned on the rood screen.