Monday, December 28, 2009

Standards, Funalia or Candelabra Magna

The following question was sent in by a reader last month.

"On your post for the Birmingham Oratory Requiem one can clearly see in the foreground one of the very large candlesticks standing on the floor of the sanctuary that are often found in Roman churches... [what was] the origin and purpose of these "standard" candlesticks - when does one light them, etc.?"

An example of one of these is pictured to the right. (One is also put to mind of the Carthusian chapels which often see the sanctuary lined by a number of similar great candlesticks. See here and here for examples.) Readers may also be familiar with their presence in Ss. Trinita, the FSSP parish in Rome.

It is a good question, and one which would seem to require us to consider some of the history of "lights" in our churches, and also the broader possible manifestations of "standards".

O'Connell's Church Building and Furnishing is one of the few resources I have found in briefly researching this question that has anything to say explicitly on the subject:

Standard candlesticks (funalia, candelabra magna) -- either those that take a single large candle, or those that take a number of candles -- figure very early in the list of church equipment.

The emperor Constantine, in the 4th century, gave seven great bronze candlesticks to be set before the high altar of the Lateran in Rome; and four were placed before the tomb of St. Peter. The number seven may have been inspired by the seven golden candlesticks of the Apocalypse. These great candlesticks are mentioned in the liturgical books, either as sources of extra necessary light (e.g. on Christmas Eve at Matins) (Caeremoniale Episcoporum, II, xiv, 3), or for greater splendour at solemn Mass, especially when celebrated on great days, when candles in six or seven large candlesticks may be placed on the balustrade of the chancel. (Caeremoniale Episcoporum, I, xii, 20). Two candles in standard candlesticks, standing in the sanctuary, may, when necessary, replace the torches that are carried at the private Mass of a bishop, for the Consecration and up to the Communion. (Caeremoniale Episcoporum, I, xxix, 7) The Clementine Instruction (para. VI) speaks of two such candlesticks in use before the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. Standard candlesticks, for use on great days, in the sanctuary are, then, a traditional, dignified and appropriate adornment and sign of festivity in churches. (p. 213)

A few points stand out. The first is that in addition to the large floor candlesticks with a single candle within them that our reader is referring to, O'Connell also identifies other forms of standards; namely those that take more than one candle (i.e. candelabra) and those which stand on some sort of balustrade. Second, on the question of usage, the three mentions of the Caeremoniale Episcoporum and the further mention of the 18th century Clementine Instruction on the ordering of Forty Hours are certainly of interest. Finally, from the perspective of earlier origins, the mention of Constantine and the Lateran certainly merits some inquiry.

Let us look at the latter for the moment, then broaden our consideration to the use of lights in our early churches generally.

Constantine and the Lateran Archbasilica

O'Connell makes a specific point of mentioning Constantine's gift to the Lateran basilica, while also noting the presence of similar items in other church inventories.

Book one of the Liber Pontificalis, under the entry for Pope Sylvester, notes Constantine's gift as follows:

"7 brass candlesticks before the altars, 10 feet in height, adorned with figures of the prophets overlaid with silver, weighing each 300 lbs."

Evidently, what we don't know from this are the specifics beyond the fact of being some form of great lights in proximity to an altar. The Catholic Encyclopedia, in its entry for "candlesticks", makes note of this:

Of the earliest form of candlesticks used in Christian churches we know but little. Such records as we possess of the magnificent presents made by Constantine to the basilica of the Lateran and to St. Peter's seem from the descriptions to refer principally to the stands and the hanging chandeliers destined for lamps. We hear also of two sets of seven bronze candelabra, each ten feet high, placed before the altars, but we cannot assume that these candelabra aurichalca were necessarily used for wax tapers.

Tapers or not, what remains a point of interest is the fact of such grandiose forms of lights in relation to our early altars. The point of consideration that naturally follows is whether there is a relationship (direct or as a development) between these specific examples and the standards we see today.

The Early Use of Lights and the Altar

Earlier within our liturgical history, candlesticks were not placed upon the mensa of the altar but were instead hung or placed in various ways around or near the altar. Various sources speak to this point:

"In the early centuries of Christianity, lights were certainly placed round and near the holy table, but they were suspended from the ceiling or from the ciborium over the altar, or on brackets round the walls... The first altar lights were the processional candlesticks carried by the acolytes, which were placed on the steps of the altar when not in use." (Peter F. Anson, Churches: Their Plan and Furnishing, p. 106)

(A medieval fresco from the lower church of the basilica of San Clemente which depicts St. Clement saying Mass, shows lamps hanging from the ciborium.)

One will note the small, cube shaped altar without candles on it, and the ciborium which sees various lamps hanging down from it

"It does not seem to have been customary to place lights upon the altar itself before the eleventh century, but the "Ordines Romani" and other documents make it clear that, many centuries before this, lights were carried in procession by acolytes, and set down upon the ground or held in the hand while Mass was being offered and the Gospel read." (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Archdale King notes similarly in The Liturgy of the Roman Church and adds: "The placing of candles before rather than on the altar seems to have been the general practice in the early middle ages, and the usage is attested by the monastic customaries. (p. 104)

With regard to religious, it might be worth noting that a similar sort practice may yet be seen -- though with only two candles and with candlesticks on the altar of course -- in the liturgical usages of the Dominicans and Carmelites for instance, when the acolytes carry their candles in procession and for the gospel, but otherwise place them on the steps before the altar.

A Dominican Rite liturgy in Rome. One of the acolyte candles is visible on the step. See right.

Of course, none of this is to suggest that the acolyte candles are precisely the same as candlebra magna. Not at all. It is simply to provide some context in relation to candles and the altar itself.

Lights Near the Altar and in the Churches Generally

Looking beyond the altar itself and the matter of the acolytes' candles, and more generally to other forms of lights historically found within our churches and sanctuaries, Fr. Daniel Rock, in his study, The Church of Our Fathers (which looks at mediaeval and mediaeval English liturgical usage in particular) comments:

Upon this "beam" [above the altar, between the two eastern columns around the altar] there stood, at Salisbury, six lights. At that cathedral too, a corona for light hung down in the presbytery; there was a seven-branched bronze candlestick standing on the pavement, as at Canterbury, and upon the pulpit wall four tapers burned on high feasts. Only two lights seem ever to have been placed upon the altar itself, though for holy days many were put about and near to it. (vol 4, p. 243)

Returning to our initial quotation of O'Connell, he mentions "candlesticks may be placed on the balustrade of the chancel"; this might put us in mind of the screen at the Sistine Chapel.

These are of course seen without candles in them. In this historical photograph, we see the candlesticks in use:

Pugin notes in his work, A Treatise on Chancel Screens and Rood Lofts, that "Father Bonanni, who wrote in the seventeenth century, describes the [Sistine] chapel as arranged in the following manner... A sort of balustrade... at the top of this balustrade are placed four, six or seven tapers, according to the solemnity of the time." (p. 24)

Similar usage may be found in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore at the entrance to the Cappella Paolina, where seven candlesticks and candles are on the screen:

Within that chapel as well, we also see a pair of standards:

Writing in the late fourth or early fifth century, St. Paulinus of Nola spoke of the use of lights within the church of St. Felix:
The bright altars are crowned with thronging lamps. Lights burnt fragrant with waxed papyri. Day and night they burn; thus night is radiant with the brightness of day, and the day itself, bright in heavenly beauty, shines still more, its light doubled by countless lanterns.

Speaking of this same early writer, D.R. Dendy in The Use of Lights in Christian Worship notes that elsewhere in Paulinus' poems, "two other points appear important for later history: extra lights were burnt on festivals..."

Dendy further quotes from the Vita Desiderii (a life of St. Desiderius of Cahors), which makes reference to "standing candles": "The crowns of light shine, the candelabra are brilliant: there are also standing candles..." (Migne, P.L., LXXXVII, 235.)

Finally, while it only vaguely relates to our question, how can we fail to mention Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (or simply, Prudentius), one of the great Latin Christian poets who lived in the 4th century, who wrote the Hymnus ad Incensum Lucernae (A Hymn for the Lighting of the Lamp), and who gives us a glimpse of the lights found within some of our early churches:
Lest man ever forget that his one hope of light
On the body of Christ has its foundation sure,
He desired to be called stone of the Corner firm,
Whence we kindle the flame lighting our little fires.

This we nourish in lamps dripping with dewy oil,
Or dry torches are lit from the celestial fire;
We make candles with wicks dipped in the flowery wax,
From which honey was pressed, hidden in yellow combs.

Bright the glittering flame, whether a hollow urn
Feeds the oil to the wick thirsting for nutriment,
Or the resin of pine burns on the flaring torch,
Or coarse fibre of flax drinks up the waxen round;

Warm nectar from the crown, burning with lively flame,
Tears, sweet-smelling, distills, flowing down drop by drop,
For the force of the heat causes the molten wax
To descend in a shower from the taper's point.

Now our temples and halls shine with Thy gifts, O God,
Splendid tapers ablaze, praising the Fount of Light;
Their rays vie with the day gone with the setting sun
And dark night, in defeat, flees in her tattered robes.


Festive vigil Thy flock keeps on this holy night [the Easter Vigil]
Through the hours til the dawn, chanting the praise of God,
And on altars upraised offer the Sacrifice,
Glad in hope of the grace granted to fervent

Ceilings fretted with gold gleam with brilliant light
Shed from pendulous lamps swaying on supple chains;
The flame fed by the oil languidly swims about,
Casting flickering rays through the translucent glass.


Some Considerations

Returning then to the question of the origins of standards, we hear of various examples, in various locations, of standing lights in the form of great candelabra and standing candles. We hear also that, within the first millennium, candlesticks were not placed on the altar itself, but rather were either hung or stood nearby. We hear tell in some places of additional lights being used for more festive times. We further see examples of candles in places like the choir screen for greater solemnity. Finally, we see examples of these standard candlesticks within certain sanctuaries.

As it relates to the matter of history then, the question which arises is whether the standards we yet see today are related to (or remnants of) these earlier standing lights, and to the time when candles were not placed upon the altar itself. Certainly their presence in Rome, noted for its conservativism in these regards, would lend itself to such a thought; the same might also be said of the Carthusians.

As for usage of standards, according to O'Connell in reference to the Caeremoniale Episcoporum and Clementine Instruction, they are used,"for greater splendour at solemn Mass, especially when celebrated on great days"; when necessary to "replace the torches that are carried at the private Mass of a bishop, for the Consecration and up to the Communion"; for extra illumination when necessary; and further, when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.

Here are the paragraphs from the Caeremoniale which O'Connell references to support his position:

"Nocte sequenti, hora competenti, prout ab Episcopo fuerit praeordinatum, celebrantur Matuntinae, prout in cap. V, ejusdem lib.II, de Matutinis dictum fuit. Haec tamen particularis in his Matutinis observanda erunt. Prim ultra luminaria solita altaris et abaci, praeparanda erunt sex, vel octo funalia cerae albae, vel quot erunt necessaria pro consuetudine et dispositione loci ad illuminandum chorum et tribunam, seu presbyterium, quae super totidem candelabris ferreis magnis, spatiis aequalibus inter se distantibus, collocabuntur: praeparabuntur etiam aliquot parvae candelae albae pro Episcopo, et Canonicis cantaturis lectiones." (CE, II, XIV, 3)

"Vasa quoque argentea ampla et magnifica, si haberentur, ad ornatum adhiberi possent, maxime celebrante aliquo S.R.E. Cardinali: sed neque crux, neque Sanctorum imagines in ea ponendae sunt. Prope ipsam mensam in loco opportuno, et ab oculis populi, quantum fieri potest, remoto vel in sacristia, erit vas cum carbonibus accensis, ac forcipibus pro usu thuribuli. Funalia pariter cerea pro elevatione Sanctissimi Sacramenti ad minus quatuor, ad summum octo, item alia sex, vel septem ad summum funalia apponi possent in alto loco, in frontispicio tribunae; maxime si celebraret aliquis S.R.E. Cardinalis, et locus esset ad id aptus." (CE, I, XII, 20)

"Si vero non adsint tres capellani, poterunt ad cereos supplere duo scutiferi, aut alii familiares, arbitrio Episcopi, decenter vestit; sed, et si copia non esset eorum, qui sustinerent dictos cereos, poterun iidem positi super duobus candleabris magnis accendi, dum elevator Corpus et Sanguis Domini, et post Communionem exstingui" (CE, I, XXIX, 7)

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I would invite any reader input if they feel that might have further details to offer, either on the matter or historical origins or practical usage.

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