Saturday, 24 July 2010

The Oddest Altar I Ever Did See



I found this altar on Wednesday, in the church of St Apollinare Nuova in Ravenna (a town I have long wanted to visit; finally I have got there). It lives in a side chapel dedicated to the fallen of World War 1. There is scarcely room for a corporal in the central well, and those 'missal stands' (at least the Gospel side one) must require the priest to crane his neck painfully. Those plaques on the back really are altar cards, though scarcely legible.
I wonder whether anyone ever did succeed in celebrating Mass here.
And why?
It reminds me of my own church in Shoreham: an architect or artist with only an idea of his own artistry and conception, and never a thought as to function or, more importantly, to tradition, or even the 'hermeneutic of continuity'. He saw something that he could pontificate about in stone, and did it. His own idea, his dream, his vision, was supreme; nothing and nobody else was important, not even those who would pay for and/or have to use the creation.

The romantic movement has a lot to answer for!

8 comments:

Londiniensis said...

Father, Father, look on the bright side:

(1) It's ad orientem, and no amount of ingenuity will turn it around

(2) It's got a central tabernacle

(3) There's nowhere to put two candlesticks on the left and a vase of flowers on the right.

Fr William Young said...

This altar is certainly a most ingenious way of providing for the needs of a priest celebrating privately. But its very success renders it counterproductive, like a very in-bred pedigree dog unable to function properly, etc., because of a passing fashion. This altar may well incorporate all the elements of "tradition", but it cuts itself off from the Tradition. It is a caricature.

Pastor in Valle said...

A very good analogy, Fr Wm.

FrB said...

Are you sure that's how the altar was originally designed? maybe the two ledges were a later addition when the altar was no longer being used for Mass...

Pastor in Valle said...

Fr B: I strongly doubt it. They looked all of a (weird) piece to me.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure this is a WW1 memorial? It looks too modern for the period. I am amazed that it was passed by the local bishop, given the strict rubricism of the time. On the other hand, that also applied to WW2 memorials. Odd!

Pastor in Valle said...

Oh yes, it's inter-war all right.

Anonymous said...

In a very large cube-shaped altar this idea works provided the celebrant has the aumbry on the side facing the people and the slanted surfaces are used to hold the book of the gospels and an icon. It would require a rather large surface space for celebrating Mass.

I saw a church in France once where an altar had the eucharistic aumbry built into a sculpture of the Last Supper. Then on the south side of the altar another aumbry was inserted for the sacred chrism.
On the north side was a built in brazier held by angels for burning incense. Brilliant!! As only the French can be.