Tuesday, August 23, 2016

THE CHURCH DIVIDED... by rails and screens...und a little merkel Part I

Something people are generally not mindful of, these days, is the spacial divisions of churches in yesteryear.

Western Churches, especially after the reforms that began in the 1960s have become big open halls, sadly devoid of certain architectural elements which for some reason began to be thought of as divisive.

Of course they were divisive!  That was what they were intended to do!  Provide a visual and physical barrier between the diverse spaces of the church: to separate the area of the faithful (the nave) from the choir which was reserved for members of the clergy; and that one, from the presbytery where the altar stands.

From east to west, let us begin with the screen most people  will recognized for its iconic presence (pardon the pun).

To divide the sanctuary from the choir, in most Orthodox churches, there is an Iconostasis.  This is a screen decorated with painted icons of Jesus, his mother The Theotokos, of the Archangels and a plethora of Saints of particular devotion locally - hence its name. Generally, it completely shields the altar from view - except at certain points during services in which the Holy doors that pierce it, and curtains that veil it, are opened.

In the Latin West, no screens requiring doors, but the open arches that separated the sanctuary from choir, would also often have curtains to be drawn open or left closed - functioning very much as the Iconostasis in the East - to shield the altar from view at certain points during the mass which when left open provided for a greater grace, in contrast.  (More on these curtains in a future post.)

Certainly, some old churches in Greece, as well as those of the Armenian Rite, maintain curtains in front of their sanctuaries to this day -  whether there is an arch or not:

In the Gothispanic and later Mozarabic Rites of Spain, this curtained arch was particularly prominent in the liturgy as well. Traces of its rails can still be seen in its extant churches dotted around the Iberian peninsula previous to the official shift to the Roman Rite that started in A.D. 1050;  also, in the many book illuminations of their patrimony known as Beatos.

Indeed, this practice and tradition stems back from the biblical description of the Jewish temple, where a large curtain hung in front of the Holy of Holies:

In Rome, from the time of Constantine, instead of having a linear arcade, it was common to pivot the external two arches and close off the open side with a fourth arch creating the tetrapylon, ciborium or baldachin that surround and cap many of the altars of the old basilicas.

These too would have been provided with curtains which at least in the early times, served for veiling the altar from view.  This, in parallel to the other catholic rites when all were still in communion with each other.

After these curtains began to go into disuse in most of the west, the chancels retained the function of separating the altar from the choir.

Indeed, these altar rails became the place where communion was distributed, especially to the clerics placed in the choir, hence, they were often called communion rails.

They were called chancels, from the Latin term cancelas, which means a barrier, fence or frontier.  For this reason, the area of the choir (and sometimes also the sanctuary) became known as the chancel in English - for it was enclosed by these low-walled divisors.

Interestingly enough, this was not just the case for religious temples.  Just as the Christian church found architectural inspiration from the civic basilicas that served as courts of law in Ancient Rome, the royal halls of the various European monarchies  were also provided with chancels in early times.

As an example, here is the Riksalen in Sweden, which to this day maintains the obvious divisors.

The imperial diets of the Holy Roman Empire and even the British Parliaments also maintained a disposition of seating particular to this ancient practice of dividing a basilica into different sections - even in absence of the actual barriers:

For those places where the chancels went the way of the rails (is that the saying?) The Great Officer of State who presided within its confines, in absence and name of the monarch, is aptly named the Chancellor - or Great Chancellor, Arch-Chancellor, Lord Chancellor - depending on country and time.  He was the person charged with the Seal of State and thus the expedition of all the great documents of a nation in the form of Letters Patents.  He is the head of the clerks, or secretaries and other learned men who in medieval times, were almost always clerics - hence their name.  These clerks had their place within "the chancellery" at the royal court, like the clerics would have their place within "the chancel" of a church.
A British Chancellor, here presiding  in front of the rails that still separate the throne dais from the carpeted area equitable to the chancel in a church;  this is the case during a parliamentary session of the House of Lords in absence of Her Majesty.

Chancellors of The United Kingdom kept the Great Seal of State in these embroidered purses... historically.
Chacellors of France kept the Seal of State inside the box pictured here under the left hand of the Chancelier.

But enough word association and derivatives for one day.  OK, one more: we end with Merkel. :)

Which is neither here, nor there besides the obvious... but then, it is said that "merkel" is derived from the German word for frontier: mark - as in markgraf (frontier earl), Denmark (frontier of the Danes), Altmark (old frontier),  etc.  - which was too fortuitous not to share.   

Next time, we will showcase the second divider in our journey west - the sometimes called roodscreen, which separates the choir from the nave of certain old churches of our common Catholic past.

But now... a wee refresher for those who desperately need a laugh:

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Lion of Saint Mark Church Banner and Stand

Today is World Lion Day, apparently.  In heraldry, lions are featured prominently, and hence why we've become familiar with them over time.

In one instance - more vexilological than armorial perhaps -  we've outdone ourselves with the particular item featured today.  This, is the Banner we made with the lion of Saint Mark embroidered in 3D using a technique called stumpwork.

It is a bit like additive sculpting - if it were clay - but mind you, the whole thing is made of fabric and thread and just the right bits of padding to achieve the three-dimensional features of the big cat.

Once we had the banner - a stand like this wouldn't do, would it?  The kind used in police stations, schools and the Department of Motor Vehicles?!

So... accordingly, the pole is covered in velvet, and so is the custom-made stand.  We used the method employed for covering the chairs-of-state since elizabethan times in England.   Would also  look nice as a stand for a Paschal Candle or the 6 Candles around a catafalque, yes?

But back to our banner: because it is the banner of a church proper, it got topped with a cross to match the stand.

But how does one even begin the process to get a glorious custom-made banner?  Contact us, tell us what you have in mind, we sketch a few proposals and you choose whar you like or do not like and in the end, the results speak for themselves, we hope.

Here are some of the initial proposals based on the discussions with Father Bob and Mother Liza about the design.

We knew the colours would be red and blue; just not sure in what order.  Also, if to go with a colorful lion or something more fierce. Mind you, it was option C that was chosen for the colour scheme.  The colorful feline inspired by the book of Kells did not win favor in the end.

This one, from a mosaic at Trinity Cathedral became the model to follow.

A cartoon was drawn to suit our purposes, and the embroidery was made.  The end result always looks better than the cartoons... it takes a little imagination and a whole lotta faith,  But it's always worth it.

And thus, we end as we started, with the face of the lion in the banner of Saint Mark's.  All for about the price of one of the ready made banners one gets from your average catalog!


To see the stand in blue velvet and the Banner made for the DOK, go here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


Today we shall take a look at the middling mitres: the auriphrygiate types.  These are differenced from the precious mitres, essentially, in the lack of jewels - which renders them lighter in weight and thus more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.

They are also sometimes called golden mitres, because in their simplest of forms, they are merely made of golden cloth without further ornamentation... well, maybe the arms of the owner embroidered on the infulae such as those pictured by JP Sonnen over at Orbis Catholicus that once belonged to Cardinal Siri (something we at Klave Centesca love being able to do for Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals and Pope with quality like that of yesteryear!  But made in the USA, today.)

The name of Auriphrygiata, though, comes from the fact that Phrygia was famous for its golden embroideries back in Roman times.  These would have been of scrolling foliages or figural, and were highly priced - adorning the purple toga of the triumphant generals and later the robes of the imperial family.  In time, the church was endowed with donations bearing these gold needleworks in the style of Phrygia, and eventually, herself began commissioning paraments and vestments with such ornamentation.

One of the earliest extant auriphrygiate mitres are those which depict the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence and Saint Thomas Becket:

These would have been used on the patronal feasts of the saints depicted, since for such occasions it was usual to have processions and long liturgies in which lighter mitres could be employed.

Toledo, according to its own traditions, still uses one for Requiems and other occasions (for which the Roman Rite only allows the Mitra Simplex in white) which depicts the crucifixion:

Mitres with whole scenes embroidered on them were once fairly common.  France certainly has some of the most beautiful examples.  This one, in the Musee de Cluny today, has scenes of the Nativity and is one of our favorite:

Others, rather than having whole scenes, show just the iconic representation of a Saint, Martyr, Virgin or Jesus himself - usually with their respective attributes.  Here are some worthy of note:

Then, there are those that depict a cross, a dove or other symbols.

Lastly, as with the case of the precious mitres, we end up with the veritable gardens that became popular from the 1700s to the 1900s.  This example, in polychrome flowers from Germany is quite striking:

Something else to note is that these "garden" mitres generally use a multitude of colors in their embroideries, while only gold is used in the Mitra Pretiosa for flowers and foliage - which need to better showcase the colored jewels sewn onto the fabric.

We hope you have enjoyed the small selection of embroidered mitres.  We are currently working on a couple of mitres inspired by some of these seen here which will be put up for auction.  Also, if you want something spectacular, you know how to reach us.  From a simple coat of arms on the infulae to something more elaborate - we do love a challenge here at Klave Centesca!

As a sample, here's the mitre inspired by the beautiful rose window tracery at the Basilica of Our Lady in Guelph, Canada, that we embroidered with the arms of Bishop Ustrzycky as a gift from one of his parishioners, our friend Massimo Marcone:

And a monochromatic auriphrygiate version in the works, to be auctioned off once we finish putting it together:

Blessings to all!