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ALTAR 363 ALTAR and especially under the pontificate of Pope Damasus (366-384), basilicas ana cliapels were erected in Komo and elsewhere in honour of the most famous martyrs, and the altars, when at all possible, were located directly above their tombs. The "Liber Poutificalis" at- §1 ■ tributes to Pope )• lelix 1 (li69-274) ^a a decree to the ef- BSj feet t li a t M a s s should be celebrat- ed on the tombs of t li e martyrs (constituU supra memorias martyr- um missas cele- brare, "Lib. Pont. ", cd. Duch- esne, I, 158). However this may be, it is clear from the testimony of this authority that the cus- tom alluded to was regarded at the beginning of the sixth century as very ancient (op. cit., loc. cit., note 2). For the fourtli century we liave abunilant testimony, literarv' an<l monumental. The altars of the basilicas of St. Piter nnd St. Paul, erected by Uonstantine, were dircclly:ibove the Apostles' tombs. Speaking of St. llippolytus, the poet Prudentius refers to the altar above his tomb as follows: — Talibus Hippolyti corpus mandatur opertis Propter ubi apposita est ara dicata Deo. Finally, the translation of the bodies of the martyrs Sts. Gervasius anil Protasius by St. Ambrose to the Ambrosian basilica in Milan is an e dence that the practice of ofTering the Holy Sacrifice on the tombs of martyrs was long cstabhshed. The great venera- tion in which the martyrs were held from the fourth century had considerable influence in effecting two changes of importance witli regard to altars. The stone slab enclosing the martyr's grave suggested the stone altar, and the presence of the martyr's relics beneath the altar W!is responsible for the tomb- like under-structurc known as the cnnfcssio. The use of stone altars in the East in the fourth century is attested by St. Gregory of Ny.ssa (p. G., XLVI, 581) and St. Jolm Chrj'sostom (liom. in I Cor., xx); and in the West, from the sixth century, the senti- ment in favour of their exclusive use is indicated by the Decree of the Council of Kpaon alludeil to above. Yet even in the West wooden altars existed as late as the reign of Charlemagne, as we infer from a capitulary of this emperor forbidding the celebra- tion of Mass except on stone tables consecrated by the bishop [in mensis tapitlcis ab episcopis conscTratis (P. L., XCVn, 124)1. Irom the ninth century, how- ever, few traces of tne use of wooden altars are found in the domain of Latin Christianity, but the Greek Church, up to the present time, pennits the employ- ment of wooil, stone, or metal. II. The C0NFES.S10. — Martyrs were Confe.ssors of the Faith — Christians who "confessed" Christ be- fore men at the cost of their lives — hence the name conlexnio was applied to their last resting-place, when, as liappenetl frequently from the fourth century, an altar was erected over it. Up to the seventh cen- tury in Home, as we learn from a letter of St. Gregory the Great to the Empress Constantia, a strong sen- timent against disturbing the bodies of the martyrs prevailed. This fact accounts for the erection of the early Roman basihcas, no matter what the obstacles encountered, over tlic tombs of martyrs; the church was brought to the martjT, not the martyr to the church. The altar in such cases was placetl above the tomb with which it was brought into the closest relation possible. In St. Peter's, for instance, where the body of the Apostle was interred at a consider- able depth below the level of the floor of the basilica, a vertical shaft, similar to the luminaria in some of the catacombs, was constructed between the .ltar and the sepulchre. Across this shaft, at some di.s- tance froni each other, were two perforated plates, called calaracUv, on which cloths {branded) were placed for a time, and aftenvards highly treasured as relics. Put the remains of St. Peter, and those of St. Paul, were never disturbed. The tombs of both Apostles were enclosed by Constantino in cu- bical ca.ses, each atiorned witli a gold cross (Lib. Pont., ed. Duchesne, I, 170). From that date to the present time, except in 1594, when Pope Clem- ent VIII with Hellarmine and some other cardinals saw the cross of Constantine on the tomb of St. Peter, the interior of their tombs has been hidilen from view. Another form of confessio was that in which the slab enclosing the martyr's tomb was on a level with the floor of the sanctuary {pre.fbyterium). As the sanctuary was clcvatetl above the floor of the basilica the altar could tlius be placed immediately above the tomb, while the people in the body of the church couKl approach the confessio and tlirough a grating (Jcnestclla conlessionis) obtain a view of the relics. C)ne of the oest examples of this form of cfinjcssio is seen at Rome in the Church of San Giorgio in Velabro, where the ancient model is fol- loweil closely. A modified form of the latter ((ifth- eeiitury) style of confessio is that in the basilica of San Alessandro on the Via Nomentana, about seven miles from Rome. In this case the sanctuary floor was not elevated above the floor of the Basilica, and therefore the fenestetta occupied the space between the floor and the table of the altar, thus forming a combination tomb and table altar. In the fencstcUa of this altar there is a square opening through which bramlea could be placed on the tomb. III. The Ciboriu.m. — From the fourth century altars were, in many instances, covered by a canopy supported on four columns, which not only formed a protection against possible accidents, but in a greater degree served as an architectural feature of importance. This canopy was known as the cibo- rium or legurium. The idea of it may have been suggested by memoriie such as those which from the earliest times protected the graves of St. Peter and St. Paul; when the basilicas of these Apostles were erected, and their tombs became altars, the api)ro- priateness of protecting-structures over the tomb- altars, bearing a certain resemblance to those which already existed, would naturally suggest itself. How- e%er this may be, the dignified and beautifully or- namented ciborium as the central point of the basilica, where all religious functions were performed, was an artistic necessity. The altar of the basilica was simple in the extreme, and, consequently, in itseli too small and insignificant to form a centre which would be in keeping with the remainiler of the sacred edifice. The ciborium atimirably met this require- ment. The altars of the basilicas erected by Con- stantine at Rome were surmounted by ciboria, one of which, in the Lateran, was known as a fastigiitm, and is described with some (.letail in the " Liber Pou- tificalis" (I, p. 172, and the note of Duchesne on p. 191). The roof was of silver and weigheil 2,025 pounds; the columns were probably of marble or of porphyry, like those of St. Peter's. On the front of the ciborium was a scene which about this time be- came a favourite subject with Christian artists: Christ enthroned in the midst of the Apostles. All the figtires were five feet in height; the statue of Our Lord weighed 120 pounils, iuul those of the .postlcs ninety povinds each. On the opposite side, facing the ap.se. Our Lonl was again represented enthroned, but surrounded by four Angels with spears; a gooil itlea of the appearance of the . gels may be had from a mosaic of the same subject in