Monday, 27 July 2009

Noble Simplicity

Seen here is the new high altar of Chartres cathedral where it is situated under the crossing. The base is largely covered in white gold and supports a mensa which appears to be of a polished green marble. Like many modern altars it is relatively small and on a square plan- a feature doubtless preferred for concelebrations. Despite the small scale I think this one of the finest modern altars in existence- not least because of the powerful scriptural resonances evoked. The liturgy on earth is, or should be, a reflection of the heavenly liturgy and the gold altar base clearly draws upon the description of the altar in Heaven which, as we learn in the Apocalypse (8:4), is of gold. Three columns on each of the four sides of the altar- twelve in all- recall the altar erected by Moses (Exodus 24,4) at the foot of Mount Sinai with its twelve standing stones signifying the twelve tribes of Israel and, thus, the sacrifices of the old law which prefigured Christ's sacrifice of the "new and everlasting covenant" shown forth in the Mass. At the same time the form of column and capital are a subtle "echo" of the stone columns from which the arches and vault of this building spring.

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