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Altar Cavity

This is a small square or oblong chamber in the body of the altar, in which are placed, according to the "Pontificale Romanum" (De Eccles. Consecratione) the relics of two canonized martyrs although the Cong. Sac. Rit. (16 February, l906) decided that if the relic of only one martyr is placed in it the consecration is valid, to these may be properly added the relics of other saints, especially of those in whose honour the church of the altar is consecrated. These relics must be actual portions of the saints' bodies, not simply of their garments or of other objects which they may have used or touched; the relics must, moreover be authenticated. If the altar is a fixed or immovable altar, the relics are placed in a reliquary of lead, silver, or gold, which should be large enough to contain, besides the relics, three grains of incense and a small piece of parchment on which is written an attest of the consecration. This parchment is usually enclosed in a crystal vessel or small vial, to prevent its decomposition. The size of the cavity varies to suit the size of the reliquary. If it is a portable altar the relics and the grains of incense are placed immediately, i.e. without a reliquary, into the cavity. This cavity must be hewn in the natural stone of the altar. Hence, unless the altar be a single block of stone, a block of natural stone is inserted for the purpose in the support. The location of the cavity in a fixed altar is

* either at the front or back of the altar, midway between its table and foot;

* in the table (mensa) at its center, near the front edge;

* in the center, on the top of the base or support if the latter be a solid mass.

If the first or the second location is selected, a slab or cover of stone, to fit exactly upon the opening, and for this reason somewhat beveled at the corners, must be provided. The cover should have a cross engraved on the upper and nether sides. If the third location is chosen the table (mensa) itself serves as the cover. In a portable altar the cavity is usually made on the top of the stone near the front edge, although it may be made in the center of the stone. This cavity is called, in the language of the Church, the sepulchrum.

A.J. SCHULTE Transcribed by Michael C. Tinkler

From the Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright © 1913 by the Encyclopedia Press, Inc. Electronic version copyright © 1996 by New Advent, Inc., P.O. Box 281096, Denver, Colorado, USA, 80228. (knight@knight.org) Taken from the New Advent Web Page (www.newadvent.org).

This article is part of the Catholic Encyclopedia Project, an effort aimed at placing the entire Catholic Encyclopedia 1913 edition on the World Wide Web. The coordinator is Kevin Knight, editor of the New Advent Catholic Website. If you would like to contribute to this worthwhile project, you can contact him by e- mail at (knight@knight.org).


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You are here: Art & Architecture > Architecture Features > Altar Cavity  Back one page.

Home | New | FAQ | Search | Forum | Links


All contents © copyright, 1998-2014
The Catholic Liturgical Library
http://www.catholicliturgy.com