Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Possibilities for the Ciborium Magnum in Neo-Gothic Churches

Most often when we see a ciborium magnum today, it comes in the context of a classical or romanesque idiom. If we think of the gothic revival style, by contrast, I believe our thoughts more naturally turn to visions of grand reredoses -- and we might even find our thinking instinctually limited in this way.

It is true that the gothic meshes rather well with the reredos, precisely because the reredos is so well suited to hosting a great many niches, spires and the like; architectural elements that are so typical to the gothic style of course. Of course, there are ciboria in a gothic mode as well. That around the high altar of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran being the most famous. In the new world, the grand cathedral of New York City, St. Patrick's, replaced its monumental reredos with a large (by the look of it) brassed ciborium in the 20th century.

Because of how many gothic revival churches were built between the late-19th and mid-20th century, and how many of those in turn saw their sanctuaries undergo renovations in the past decades, there are likely to be many present and future opportunities for parishes and parish priests to look to re-enchant those sanctuaries. Of course in making that approach, parishes and their pastors are wont to consider the present liturgical circumstances and norms and determine how to best do that, while still presenting something edifying and unified to the greater architectural whole.

Recently I came across a drawing of a gothic ciborium in Regensburg, and it struck me that it might show forth an example of how the ciborium could be well manifest in gothic revival churches.

It is worth noting here, that this particular ciborium is built against the wall of the church and the altar is not free-standing, but it takes little imagination to picture how it would be able to be manifest in form and design if both the ciborium and altar were pulled away from the wall in the more usual arrangement of altar and ciborium, adjusting the form of the ciborium accordingly. One can also see how this might be simplified somewhat for those places which need to do something under greater budget constraints. It also strikes me that there is great potential here for gothic revival remnants to be used as part of the construction of such a ciborium, whether from exterior or interior remnants.

The advantage of this solution is that a free-standing altar covered by a ciborium is quite well suited to working in accordance with present liturgical norms, is a clear manifestation of our tradition, brings a great prominence to the altar, and is also well suited to our particular days by not committing itself to an absolute necessity of an "either-or" in relation to ad orientem or versus populum manifestations of the sacred liturgy. Clearly it is in full compatibility with either form of the Roman liturgy and revives one of the great aspects of the earlier Liturgical Movement, incorporating it as a part of the new liturgical movement.

I hope our architects and patrons will give this option some consideration, both for new gothic churches to be constructed, or for old gothic revival churches in need of re-enchantment.

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