Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A decorative screen or facing on the wall at the back of an altar; a retable.
  • n. The back of an open hearth of a fireplace.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. a screen or decoration behind the altar in a church, usually depicting religious iconography or images.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A screen or partition wall behind an altar.
  • n. The back of a fireplace.
  • n. The open hearth, upon which fires were lighted, immediately under the louver, in the center of ancient halls.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. In architecture, the back of a fireplace, or of an open fire-hearth, as commonly used in domestic halls of medieval times and the Renaissance; the iron plate often forming the back of a fireplace in which andirons are used.
  • n. A screen or a decorated part of the wall behind an altar in a church, especially when the altar does not stand free, but against the wall; an altarpiece. Compare altarpiece and retable.
  • n. In medieval armor, same as backpiece.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a painted or carved screen placed above and behind an altar or communion table

Etymologies

Middle English, from Anglo-Norman, from areredos : arere, behind (Latin ad-, ad- + Latin retrō, backward; see re- in Indo-European roots) + dos, back (from Latin dorsum).
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)

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