Denver Map

One particular category, which may or may not have been an altar, was decorated with sculpted motifs on the border. Another had molded lobes on the upper part, forming something like fixed plates a custom perpetuated in a series of Romanesque altar tables in SW France. These marble slabs nearly always rested on small columns of the same material, with base and simple capital carved in the same stone, fixed on a base of masonry or stone or in the floor. The execution of these tables and their accessories was carried out in the great imperial quarries of the E Mediterranean Proconnesus, Thasos etc. and were widely exported as far as the extreme West.

Besides this common form, we find altars with one foot, resting, e.g., on a column shaft a type preserved esp. in medieval Spain. There were also block altars, in which the table rested on a stone chest which could enclose relics, generally open on one side to allow them to be seen and, if necessary, touched. A variant of this type was in common use in the 6th c. at Ravenna and in the N Adriatic. There could also be cippus altars, where the table was supported by a massive stone block sometimes with a niche cut out for a reliquary.

It often happened that pagan cippi and funerary altars were used as bases, e.g., in S Gaul or at Mactar in Tunisia. Finally we should mention the tomb altar, where the flat surface was placed directly over a sarcophagus, as sometimes in the catacombs. The altar was usually covered by a light structure, a ciborium or canopy, which generally also protected the priest’s place which can thus be determined. It often happens that altar bases and supports are found, generally on a square plan. Upper parts are known only in the form of fragments but can be inferred from the form of the coping flat, conical, pyramidal of the early medieval ciboria of Italy or Dalmatia.

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