The word pulpitum is applied in ecclesiastical Latin both for this form of screen and also for a pulpit; the secular origin of the term being a theatrical stage, or speaker's dais. It is thought that this form of screen originated in monastic practice, providing a raised stage from which members of a religious communities could address pilgrims attending to venerate the church's relics, while still maintaining their monastic seclusion from lay contact.
An internal stair within the thickness of the pulpitum gives access to a broad upper platform, which commonly supports the cathedral organ. The pulpitum is invariably pierced by a central passage, leading immediately into the choir stalls to the (ritual) east. In the late medieval period, there would have always have been a rood screen or rood beam placed one bay to the west of the pulpitum (i.e. further away from the high altar of the cathedral); which would have had a nave altar for the use of lay worshippers set against its western face; and which was pierced by lateral doors, left and right, through which pilgrims could pass into the eastern arm of the church so as to proceed via the ambulatory to the feretory or shrine, commonly located behind the high altar. Such cathedral rood screens were demolished at the English Reformation, except in the case of Saint Alban's Cathedral, where the medieval rood screen survives, while the original pulpitum does not.
Several cathedrals demolished their pulpitums in the early 19th century, intending to open the view from the congregation to the high altar; but in most instances this was found to be unsatisfactory, and a much less massive chancel screen was erected in its place.