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Altar flat surface, sometimes at ground level, often high, on which they make sacrifices to the gods. It is included in the number of installations rituals of most known religions. The first examples of altar, Neolithic, have the shape of square blocks of stone with a cavity in the upper part or machined in the shape of a cup. Among the oldest altars associated with temples it is reminiscent of Eridu, the 5th millennium BC In northern Europe, the use of rectangular altars stood since the Bronze Age; in Egypt the altar, in the form of the stone table (hotep), welcomed the offers of food and drinks for the deities.
In Syria were popular types with increases in the corners, perhaps similar to the horns of the deer.
In Mycenaean age, the altar, often connected with the funeral cult, had the shape of ‘table offer, or round cavity surrounded by a wall. In the classical period, it was destined for private worship and community; They could be of various shapes and arise in all public areas of civil and religious character. In the Hellenistic period, they were often colossal proportions (altars of Zeus and Athena Nikephoros to Pergamum, of Athena at Priene, of Asclepius in Kos). In the Roman world, they developed forms influenced by Greek models and could bear motifs garlands, ox skulls, power or reliefs with scenes related to the theme of sacrifice.
Fixed furniture of the Christian church since the 4th century. The altar has a specific type, at first quite simple: the altar at the table, consisting of a plate, initially in wood and then in stone or marble, supported by a central support or by four corner; to the bonnet altar, in which the table rests on a rectangular case; the altar to block, in which the plate is supported by a masonry block of the same size, and that it tends to lean to the wall. It is associated to the martyrs’ relics, placed in the canteen or thickness of the support or in the floor below, in a compartment communicating with the outside through an opening, the fenestella confessions. Sometimes the canteen has to support a sarcophagus or a spa, why spread since the Renaissance.
It can be decorated on the faces of the support by complex decorations, reliefs, inlays of precious materials coatings. The front face can have a mobile decorative coating, fabric, wood or other materials, said frontal; by analogy, the name is also used to indicate the fixed decorative coating. It can be surmounted by the ciborium. After the Council of Trent, the altar is placed the Eucharistic tabernacle of more complex forms gradually, often in the form of a small temple, sometimes monumental in size. In the back part of the table may be the step of the altar, the structure in one or more steps for the candlesticks and the cross. The use, since the Middle Ages, to put a statue, a relief or a painting, is associated with the use, spread mainly by sec. 15 °, to decorate the top of the wall to which it is learning; from the elaboration of these elements develops the retroactive (retable) or dorsal: a mobile structure (of wood) or fixed, masonry, marble, grout, which frames the sacred image and is subsequently to form a unitary structure type architectural ensemble with the canteen.
The modern altar, not against the wall, following forms released by tradition, design, and in the eventual relationship with the sacred image, linked to new artistic and architectural trends and respecting the liturgical dictates. A movable altar or laptop, often made of wood or metal, has canteen consists of a stone slab, possibly containing the relics, of a sufficient area to address the chalice during Mass.
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