Wednesday, 29 April 2009

English Altars and Modernism.

Sunday night Evensong and Benediction did not exactly pull in the crowds, no surprise there after the morning Mass and Annual General Meeting, but a faithful dozen or so made the trek down Whittaker Lane. We have another service of Benediction, much grander on the surface, in a couple of weeks as part of the May Devotions which we hope will be full as usual. As it will also coincide with the last week before the toilets, passage way and community room are redecorated and in some cases rebuilt, we will have to watch the toilet wall, lest anybody try to take a souvenir as they did in Berlin when the wall came down.

This surprising piece of decorated organ cladding is to be found in the Parish Church of Kirkham, in Lancashire. Even though the altar has been pulled forward, spoiling the original effect given by the gradine and panelling slightly, it remains an excellent example of how to decorate these organ 'walls' which are so common in Churches which have a choir in the sanctuary. The statues and spires, so lacking in the rest of the Church, give a fine feeling of the sacred in a Chapel which is also the Chapel of reservation. The gilding of the pipes gives a hint of a reredos as well, which I found, on a sunny afternoon with the light streaming in the windows and hitting the pipes full on, to be a very attractive - and quite simple - way of tarting up a dull corner of a Church.

A very reasonable altar fall as well adds to the well thought out atmosphere of this Chapel, we shall gloss over the energy saver screw in bulb signifying the Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and remark on the attractive communion rail, in matching wood to the reredos.

The High Altar, however, shows an entirely different hand. I sat in the pews and looked at it for a while, aware of a niggling disquiet, until I realised what was disturbing me. The altar, of course, used to be an 'English' altar, but the front two riddel posts have been moved forty five degrees to the side, giving, rather than an altar three quarters enclosed in hangings with four angels surrounding, an altar with three curtains behind it, looking for all the world as though Charley's Aunt is about to enter through one of the smaller ones. I suppose that this is to enable the altar to be brought forward to enable the people to see their Priests face and, it has to be said, this is possibly a better option than pulling the altar forward, leaving the posts as they were and having the priest enter through a side curtain, as can be seen elsewhere.

Does anyone have any suggestions as to how an English altar can be adapted for Westward facing celebration? My initial reaction would be to say either get rid of it completely if it is not used with historic integrity, or even supply a nave altar and leave the main one as it is, at least the nave altar can be removed when the fashion of the last forty years gives way again to the previous two thousand. Oddly enough, in this Church there is a nave altar as well, a tiny table close to the entrance to he Sanctuary.