Saturday, 1 November 2008

Much better!


I saw yesterday on Rorate Caeli that the strange new altar of the Chair in St Peter's Basilica had been replaced with something more fitting. I'm grateful to Fr A.W. for sending me a link to some much better pictures of the new altar, which you can find on Rinascimento Sacro, here. It is certainly another step in the right direction. Mind you, a small voice inside me wonders where they got it from: is this a case of robbing Paul to pay Peter? And perhaps Paul could be persuaded to dig out some nice candlesticks, too.

9 comments:

Thomasso said...

I was at a diaconate ordination in San Pietro in early October, which took place on the 'anvil'. I thought at the time how wonderful if it would be if that hideous structure was replaced.

This is a vast improvement. I, too, hope that better candles will be found - or, rather, used: it shouldn't be difficult to find decent candles and Crucifix in San Pietro (or San Paulo).

I'd go one step further, however, and look forward to the day when they restore the Altar of the Chair in it's original place.

PeterHWright said...

Yes, it's a vast improvement, but as Thomasso says, it would be even better if they put it on the site of the original altar beneath Bernini's Cathedra Petri.

In fact, if I had my way, all high altars would be restored to their original position. After all, in most churches it need not be difficult to move a wooden table altar out of the way to allow the sanctuary to be used for ad orientem worship.

P.S. Any clues as to where this new altar came from ? I see it bears someone's coat of arms, but I couldn't make it out in the photographs.

Henry said...

Not having visited St Peter's it is not clear from the blog what is the original, what was the first alteration and what has now been done. And I don't read Italian.

Henry said...

Not having visited St Peter's it is not clear from the blog what is the original, what was the first alteration and what has now been done. And I don't read Italian.

Anthony Symondson SJ said...

There is enormous confusion raging on the websites and comboxes about this altar. First, praise God that the bronze altar has been removed. It was installed c1983 soon after Cardinal Aurelio Sabattani was appointed by Pope John Paul II Archpriest of St Peter's basilica. He was in office until 1991 and replaced by Cardinal Vergilio Noe who retired in 2002. Wrongly Cardinal Noe has been blamed for its installation.

Until then the newly re-installed altar was in place in front of Bernini's original which had not then been removed. It was removed at the time of the installation of the bronze altar. What has re-appeared is the intermediate altar, complete with its silver-gilt embossed antependium.

How do I know this? I was in Rome in 1980 when the silver altar, installed during the reign of Paul VI, was still in place. I next went in 1985 and it had been replaced by the ugly altar which has now mercifully been removed. I thought at the time that this was a mistake and had introduced the only discordant note into St Peter's.

Although Pope Paul VI had nothing to do with its installation I hope it will find a place as a period piece in his Museum of Modern Art in the Vatican Museum.

PeterHWright said...

A very interesting comment from Fr. Anthony Symondson, S.J.

When I was living in Italy in the 1970s, the marble altar beneath the Cathedra Petri was intact and untouched (although no longer used). The tall Crucifix and six candles were still in place behind it. A priest's chair, with microphone, stood in front of it.

A versus populum altar (again with microphone) was situated towards the front of the sanctuary. The bronze "anvil" altar was at that time nowhere to be seen.

Public criticism of the bronze altar began to circulate in the early 1980s when I was no longer living in Italy. I was aghast at its sheer ugliness when I saw it on a visit circa 1983.

Subsequently, Cardinal Noe was, I think, responsible for the removal of the marble altar beneath the Cathedra Petri. (I am told it was destroyed in the attempt to remove it.) The tall crucifix and six candles were removed at the same time, I believe. I don't understand why it was necessary to remove this altar. The result is visually unsatisfactory, to say the least.

The kindest thing one can say about the bronze altar is that it is an outstanding example of modern art. I fully agree with Fr. Symondson. Its best place would be in the Museum along with other works of modern art.

PeterHWright said...

An afterthought ..

I have been thinking about the senseless removal/destruction of the marble Altar of the Chair situated beneath Bernini's Cathedra Petri.

The destruction of so many high altars in the 1980s seems to stem from a somewhat obscure document published in 1977, to do with the dedication of new churches. It
suggested that new churches should be built with only one altar. This document made no reference to existing churches, yet seems to have been used (wrongly) as an excuse for all sorts of subsequent "wreckovations" in existing churches.

I wonder if this explains what happened in St. Peter's in Cardinal Noe's time as Archpriest of the Basilica.

PeterHWright said...

Sorry, it's me again ..

Further to the very helpful information from Fr. Anthony Symondson, S.J. that the "new" altar is not new at all, it now appears from other blogs that it has quite a history, dating back much further than the reign of Paul VI.

The arms, comprising two lions, crowned, rampant, have been identified by a commenter at oriensforum.com as those of Cardinal Rampolla. This is confirmed by the Italian language blog rinascimentosacro.com

There will, I understand, be more news about this at NLM in due course.

(If this is correct, it raises the questions : why did Cardinal Rampolla commission this altar and where was it originally used ?)

Anonymous said...

A priest of the Diocese of Dunkeld, Scotland, who is now deceased, informed me that the original altar that was removed from below the Cathedra Petri, was paid for by Henry Benedict Cardinal Stuart. I was in Rome with this priest in the summer of 1975 when he told me about it. He was no friend of the so-called E.F. and I thought it very odd that he lamented the removal of this altar.