Monday, May 18, 2009

An Irish Ciborium and the Ciborium Generally

One of our Irish readers, knowing our interest here at the NLM in the ciborium, as well as our interest in their revival, sent in some photos from the mother house of the Columban Fathers in Dalgan, Co. Meath, Ireland, which was built in the 1920's.

Here are the images, interspersed with and followed by a few considerations of this architectural feature.

This view actually helps to illustrate the value of the ciboria in emphasizing and enthroning the free-standing altar.

If one compares the two free-standing altars, one can see how the forward altar becomes rather lost by comparison (and would be, I would argue, even without the former high altar behind it). It gives a sense of being rather orphaned and has not the same prominence or centrality in relation to the rest of the architecture.

In fairness, it should be noted that this is particularly not helped in this particular instance by the smaller dimensions of the forward altar. Were the forward altar longer, fully vested with an antependium, upon a predella and appointed with substantive altar cross and candles, this would be mitigated significantly. This said, I believe the point of the importance of the ciboria still stands.

Free-standing altars generally, and particularly those of smaller dimensions, are well served by it, both architecturally and liturgically.

A closer look at the free-standing altar with the ciborium:

Finally, a closer look at the actual altar itself to complete our viewing:

We are provided here with an opportunity to perhaps again briefly consider the ciborium in relation the history of the Christian altar.

Blessed Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster, the Benedictine who became Archbishop of Milan, wrote the following in his famed liturgical study, The Sacramentary (Liber Sacramentorum): Historical and Liturgical Notes on the Roman Missal, on the topic of the ciborium:

The sum of the Christian religion was there upon the Altar, the gospel of the Word and the gifts of the Paraclete. For this reason, in the minds of the early Christians, the altar could never be without the halo of its sacred nature -- that is, the ciborium or baldacchino in marble or in silver. The altar in its entirety constituted the true tabernacle of the Most High, who assuredly could not dwell sub divo without a special roof of his own under the lofty vaulting of the naos. (p. 163)

The English liturgiologist, Edmund Bishop, also commented:

The canopy served for honour: the existence of a covering over, and marking the seat of the ruler, magistrate, pontiff, existed in the general instinct of the peoples; it was surely fitting to render the same honour to the seat of Majesty of the King of Kings...

-- "On the History of the Christian Altar" in Liturgica Historica

Many thanks to our Irish reader for sending in these photos and providing another opportunity to give consideration to this important architectural and liturgical feature.

Related Articles:

The History and Forms of the Christian Altar. Part 1: The Early Christian and Early Roman Forms (Oct. 2008)

Bringing Verticality and Presence back to Free-standing Altars (Jan. 2008)

The History, Development and Symbolism of the Antependium, Altar Frontal, or "Pallium Altaris" (Oct. 2008)

Potentialities of the Rood Screen Today (April 2009)