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Author Topic: Altar curtains - normative or exception?  (Read 2180 times) Average Rating: 0
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Christopher McAvoy
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« on: October 16, 2013, 12:32:36 AM »



Could this image be an example of a model for an "Orthodox" latin rite altar that meets your approval ?

If it meets your approval, you may enjoy this article on altar curtains in the latin rite. Drawings of actual examples are included.

http://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Dictionnaire_raisonn%C3%A9_de_l%E2%80%99architecture_fran%C3%A7aise_du_XIe_au_XVIe_si%C3%A8cle/Autel

http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=fr&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Ffr.wikisource.org%2Fwiki%2FDictionnaire_raisonn%25C3%25A9_de_l%25E2%2580%2599architecture_fran%25C3%25A7aise_du_XIe_au_XVIe_si%25C3%25A8cle%2FAutel&act=url
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« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2013, 12:37:38 AM »

Were they ever drawn across the altar, or only on the sides? 

I've seen altar curtains like this in some photos of older (looking?) churches, and I liked the effect very much. 
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« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2013, 12:41:20 AM »

Can't think of any reason why anyne would object that. Some might have problems with the statue but I don't think curtain is anyhow problematic.
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« Reply #3 on: October 16, 2013, 12:52:13 AM »

Quote
Were they ever drawn across the altar, or only on the sides?

This is the million dollar question.... after more reading perhaps I'll know.
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« Reply #4 on: October 16, 2013, 03:06:42 AM »

Btw,  that looks somewhat similar to Syriac altars.
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« Reply #5 on: October 23, 2013, 03:09:20 PM »

Here's the Holy Angels' Chapel altar with side curtains at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington, DC.

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« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2013, 03:31:37 PM »

Quote
Were they ever drawn across the altar, or only on the sides?

This is the million dollar question.... after more reading perhaps I'll know.
Not in this form. But, riddle posts originate from the ciborium, and one can clearly see the rods on which the curtains were hung all the way around. They had a liturgical use, but I can't recall any specific examples.

Perhaps it's because of the rood screen, which was less open than the earlier western "templa".
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« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2013, 04:59:21 PM »

Those are riddels, and they symbolize the tabernacle, but they have no liturgical function. They are extremely rare these days and are largely confined to a certain subclass of A-C/spikey parishes.
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« Reply #8 on: November 01, 2013, 05:02:04 PM »

Have you seen both Armenian Orthodox (Apostolic) altars?
http://www.armenianchurch.org/index.jsp?sid=1&id=2362&pid=4&lng=en
and
http://peopleofar.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/armenian-church-of-40-martyrs-altar-c-hov.jpg


Similar to the Syriac Orthodox style
http://zindamagazine.com/html/archives/2005/5.21.05/pix/MarAprem2.JPG
and
http://users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/tuneinir/new4704/TNRStMaryAltar.jpg


Compare with the Traditional Latin Mass Altar
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c9/Unchurch.jpg
and
http://www.missagregoriana.it/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Altare-Maggiore-1.jpg

-is there any type of connection?
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« Reply #9 on: November 01, 2013, 05:33:18 PM »

I wouldn't call the "Traditional Latin Mass Altar" traditional. It's a questionable development of the Roman church.

But I'm quite sure that there's a connection. I'm not well versed in the history of those churches, but perhaps they were at one time heavily influenced by post-tridentine Rome?
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« Reply #10 on: November 01, 2013, 07:12:28 PM »

I wouldn't call the "Traditional Latin Mass Altar" traditional. It's a questionable development of the Roman church.

But I'm quite sure that there's a connection. I'm not well versed in the history of those churches, but perhaps they were at one time heavily influenced by post-tridentine Rome?

What's "questionable" about it? 
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« Reply #11 on: November 01, 2013, 07:17:46 PM »

I wouldn't call the "Traditional Latin Mass Altar" traditional. It's a questionable development of the Roman church.

But I'm quite sure that there's a connection. I'm not well versed in the history of those churches, but perhaps they were at one time heavily influenced by post-tridentine Rome?

What's "questionable" about it? 
Gradines. The six (and more) candles on the altar. The fact that it's not freestanding (excepting of course smaller chapels).
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« Reply #12 on: November 01, 2013, 09:04:24 PM »

What's "questionable" about it? 
Gradines. The six (and more) candles on the altar. The fact that it's not freestanding (excepting of course smaller chapels).

What's your objection to these things?   

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« Reply #13 on: November 02, 2013, 05:16:47 AM »

What's "questionable" about it? 
Gradines. The six (and more) candles on the altar. The fact that it's not freestanding (excepting of course smaller chapels).

What's your objection to these things?   


The liturgy ideally requires one to go around the altar. More than two candles on the altar is a post-tridentine development, and the gradines are there to put all the candles on. Besides that, it often looks dreadful, especially if the row of candles covers a reredos or altar piece.
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« Reply #14 on: November 02, 2013, 12:45:38 PM »

What's "questionable" about it?  
Gradines. The six (and more) candles on the altar. The fact that it's not freestanding (excepting of course smaller chapels).

What's your objection to these things?  


The liturgy ideally requires one to go around the altar. More than two candles on the altar is a post-tridentine development, and the gradines are there to put all the candles. Besides that, it often looks dreadful, especially if the row of candles covers a reredos or altar piece.

As far as I know the only act of the liturgy which might require a free-standing altar (other than versus pop celebration, which I'm going to assume isn't something people here think is desirable) is the censing of the altar. But directions for doing so, as far back as I know, allowed both for circling the altar and for censing it when simply standing before it. The truth about shelf altars is that, as far as anyone knows, they go back into apostolic times. Gradines are probably more common recently but they are also a natural outgrowth of altarpieces.

As far as the number of candles is concerned, I cannot find anything about the multiplication of their numbers. However, in a trinitarian religion, it's an obvious step from one candle on either side to three. I would also point out that in an era where candles where the normal, often only light in a building, such multiplication is not, perhaps, terribly surprising.
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« Reply #15 on: November 02, 2013, 01:07:52 PM »

As far as I know the only act of the liturgy which might require a free-standing altar (other than versus pop celebration, which I'm going to assume isn't something people here think is desirable) is the censing of the altar. But directions for doing so, as far back as I know, allowed both for circling the altar and for censing it when simply standing before it.
The concession of going back and forth in front of the altar is because of the move towards non-freestanding altars in the Roman church.


Quote
The truth about shelf altars is that, as far as anyone knows, they go back into apostolic times.
Perhaps I'm mistranslating you, but as far as I know (and have been taught), the altars of the apostolic times were more akin to ordinary tables, than altars with shelves on them. Do you have any source on that?

As far as the number of candles is concerned, I cannot find anything about the multiplication of their numbers. However, in a trinitarian religion, it's an obvious step from one candle on either side to three. I would also point out that in an era where candles where the normal, often only light in a building, such multiplication is not, perhaps, terribly surprising.
The altar candles aren't the only candles in the Church. We have attestations of the Sarum celebrations that more candles were placed near the altar, but not on the altar. The multiplication of candles happened in a time when the windows became larger, so I hardly think that lighting really was the issue. I'd wager it's the same development as the reredos: achieving a more theatrical effect.
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« Reply #16 on: November 02, 2013, 06:33:27 PM »

The liturgy ideally requires one to go around the altar.

Sure, but there have always been places where this was not possible, where it wasn't post-Tridentine influence, and where life and liturgy went on. 

Anyway, the Syriac and Armenian altars in the photos above are all freestanding (with the possible exception of the Assyrian one depicted).  Generally, at least the main altar (if a church has more than one) will be freestanding.  If we have to use an altar that's against a wall, we adapt--the ceremonial changes very little. 

Quote
More than two candles on the altar is a post-tridentine development...

Source?  Because I'm not sure how universally you can make this claim.  I've never come across it before.   

To Keble's point about candles in the days before electricity you responded with the claim that their multiplication happened when windows became bigger.  But there are many old churches in India where the altar area has little or no windows, and whatever light does filter through the nave is not nearly enough to read.  Twelve or thirteen candles on the altar is par for the course. 

And that's beside the point that other traditions utilise seven-branched candelabra or other types of lighting.   

Quote
...and the gradines are there to put all the candles on. Besides that, it often looks dreadful, especially if the row of candles covers a reredos or altar piece.

Anything good can be done dreadfully, so I'll leave that aside. 

Gradines are actually a feature of Syriac altars; if many of ours use the Western style gradine, there are still others which use only one "shelf", or even an older form which I haven't seen any other tradition use:





The candles are usually placed on them, but not always exclusively.  They can also be used for anything needed for the service of the Liturgy that ideally, should not be placed on the mensa.  Usually the altar cross is placed on it, but also relics, holy water, cruets, etc. 

What tradition is your base line for comparing others?
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« Reply #17 on: November 03, 2013, 05:53:19 AM »

More than two candles on the altar is a post-tridentine development...

Source?  Because I'm not sure how universally you can make this claim.  I've never come across it before.[/quote]
I'm talking about the western rites (since this is the western rite discussion). This is, if I recall correctly (and it is attested by the Catholic Encyclopedia, though I have no recent sources at hand to cross-check), the first mention of the use of candlesticks.

Quote
To Keble's point about candles in the days before electricity you responded with the claim that their multiplication happened when windows became bigger.  But there are many old churches in India where the altar area has little or no windows, and whatever light does filter through the nave is not nearly enough to read.  Twelve or thirteen candles on the altar is par for the course. 
And from what time do those churches originate?

Quote
Gradines are actually a feature of Syriac altars; if many of ours use the Western style gradine, there are still others which use only one "shelf", or even an older form which I haven't seen any other tradition use:





The candles are usually placed on them, but not always exclusively.  They can also be used for anything needed for the service of the Liturgy that ideally, should not be placed on the mensa.  Usually the altar cross is placed on it, but also relics, holy water, cruets, etc.
Do we know from what period of time these originated? As I have shown before, I claim no knowledge of the liturgical development of the oriental rites, but I find these developments to be very strange, leading me to believe that there has been "cross-contamination" (for lack of a better word).
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« Reply #18 on: November 03, 2013, 09:01:49 AM »

Quote
The truth about shelf altars is that, as far as anyone knows, they go back into apostolic times.
Perhaps I'm mistranslating you, but as far as I know (and have been taught), the altars of the apostolic times were more akin to ordinary tables, than altars with shelves on them. Do you have any source on that?

I don't have something immediately to hand. However, WRT altars in medieval English churches, I was able to come up with the following:
"In a small church or in a chapel the high altar usually backed on to the east wall; in a cathedral, monastic, or collegiate church it was almost always isolated." It should also be pointed out that ALL of churches had multiple altars unless they were extremely tiny, so that the side and chantry chapels almost as a rule had shelf altars.

I should also point out that you seem to be operating on the common misconception of western practice as being a development from the east, rather than independent or even prior. The truth about the liturgy itself is that it is the western liturgy which is more primitive and the eastern more developed; but as far as practice is concerned the west has always had a "mass compressed to the smallest mass" line of thinking. A single priest and a tiny congregation in a very small space isn't and wasn't the norm, but it was always one of the regularly seen forms.

Quote
As far as the number of candles is concerned, I cannot find anything about the multiplication of their numbers. However, in a trinitarian religion, it's an obvious step from one candle on either side to three. I would also point out that in an era where candles where the normal, often only light in a building, such multiplication is not, perhaps, terribly surprising.
The altar candles aren't the only candles in the Church. We have attestations of the Sarum celebrations that more candles were placed near the altar, but not on the altar.

That's not what I find. My reading is that the numbers of candles wasn't fixed, and that they varied according to the place, the season, and the feast, and not according to any one pattern. It should be remembered that "Sarum" means specifically "Salisbury", and that while Sarum usage is quite typical of late medieval English rites, it's simply that of one particular place, not a law laid upon the whole island.
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« Reply #19 on: November 03, 2013, 09:10:37 AM »

Perhaps it's because of the rood screen, which was less open than the earlier western "templa".

The rood screen serves to divide the choir into a subchapel. Ignoring the rood itself, it never had any liturgical function whatsoever, and in fact was from that perspective an intrusive obstruction.
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« Reply #20 on: November 03, 2013, 03:02:25 PM »


If you're talking just about the West, then we need not read everything we see in the East that looks "Western" as "post-Tridentine influence".  There are a number of things in the West which have parallels in the non-Byzantine East, whether it was Eastern influence on Rome or Roman influence in the East, which pre-date Trent. 

Quote
Quote
To Keble's point about candles in the days before electricity you responded with the claim that their multiplication happened when windows became bigger.  But there are many old churches in India where the altar area has little or no windows, and whatever light does filter through the nave is not nearly enough to read.  Twelve or thirteen candles on the altar is par for the course. 
And from what time do those churches originate?

For the purposes of this discussion, many predate Trent and the advent of the Portuguese in India.  The few places I know of where there are cubical or rectangular altars with no gradines and limited use of candles are from the late 20th century and heavily influenced by Byzantine ideas on church design and furnishings.  There are also, of course, post-17th century churches with heavy Portuguese and Roman influence, but you can't blame certain things on that influence when they are much older.   

Quote
Do we know from what period of time these originated? As I have shown before, I claim no knowledge of the liturgical development of the oriental rites, but I find these developments to be very strange, leading me to believe that there has been "cross-contamination" (for lack of a better word).

To be honest, I'm not sure when they originated, but certainly there are pre-Tridentine examples, and many of those are as above: a form alien to the West, as far as I can tell. 

There is, to be sure, Western influence in the East that predates Trent--Armenian liturgy has many examples--but there are also things that look Western in places and times where there was zero contact with the West or with those influenced by the West.  Again, it's one thing if you're talking exclusively about the West, but there's only so much of that you can apply to the East.   
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« Reply #21 on: November 03, 2013, 03:20:33 PM »

More than two candles on the altar is a post-tridentine development.

The numerous gifts, for example, recorded in the Life of St. Silvester, which although probably of later date than the time of Constantine yet belong to an early period, include large lamps in which scented oils burned, heavy silver candelabra for the nave of the Lateran Basilica, and seven bronze candlesticks before the altar in the same; and in the time of Innocent I there was said to be twenty brazen candelabra in the nave of the church of SS. Gervase and Protase, each weighing forty pounds.
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« Reply #22 on: November 03, 2013, 06:26:03 PM »

Those are riddels, and they symbolize the tabernacle, but they have no liturgical function. They are extremely rare these days and are largely confined to a certain subclass of A-C/spikey parishes.

"spikey"?
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