Before and After: Holy Comforter, Charlottesville, Virginia

Here is another 'before and after' coming this time from Holy Comforter in Charlottesville, Virginia, executed by Erik Bootsma Architecture.  Holy Comforter's previous sanctuary arrangement would look odd to anyone who was not familiar with the underlying theology which informed it (and even then it might still look odd).  The original high altar had been removed at some point and a new freestanding altar was eventually put in place toward the left. Set back and on the right was the ambo/pulpit.  The sedilia was placed where the high altar once was and the tabernacle was found just to the left of that. For those curious about this arrangement, the idea behind it, in brief, was to de-emphesize the centrality of the altar and instead emphasize "the two tables" -- the 'table of the Word' (the ambo) and that of the sacrament (the altar). While it pops up from time to time, suffice it to say this arrangement never caught on.



In the 'after' state, the freestanding altar has been relocated back to a central position in the sanctuary. In addition, an "altar of reservation" has been established behind on a traditional predella arrangement with the tabernacle once again taking a central position in the church. An altar cross is found above that and on the gradine are found six altar candlesticks in a traditional arangement.

It is worth noting that this altar of reservation appears to be designed such that it could in fact be used as an altar proper -- and so should some enterprising pastor down the road determine that this should once again become the main altar of the parish, it would be quite easy to facilitate this transition -- and transition here is a key word. This may seem a small point, but anyone familiar with the current liturgical climate will know that while things are slowly but surely improving, things take time. Many architects today are taking a very similar approach of utilizing the altar of reservation in a way that would facilitate just such a transition, and in that regard they are lighting the path back to the classical sanctuary arrangement of the Latin rite.

All of this has also effectively re-grounded the central artwork of behind, re-connecting it to the altar.

This is a very simple restoration in many regards, but a very effective one that has placed the altar back where it belongs: in the centre.

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A couple of additional comments outside the architectural considerations:

I would certainly encourage the parish to continue on with their restoration work by investing in a matching set of altar candlesticks and cross for their altar. I would recommend something in brass that has a traditional design and some substance (by which I mean weightiness) to them; I should think they should be around 15" in height (before candles). The smaller proportions of this altar (along with the six candlesticks found behind) would suggest to me that two candlesticks may be sufficient and a thicker pillar candle might work nicely in this instance as well.

I would also recommend that, instead of the coloured cloth (which is rooted in the praiseworthy motive of emphasizing the liturgical colour of the day) to instead utilize a traditional frontal. If that is not possible, my own recommendation would be to simply fall back to a traditional altar linen.

Those two thoughts aside, congratulations to Holy Comforter for undertaking this restoration; a restoration which is bound to serve the liturgy, the clergy and the faithful much better.

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