Another Case Study in the Influence of Candles and Candlesticks on the Harmony and Proportions of Altars

On various occasions I've made reference to the importance of candles and candlesticks, both as a means of providing a sense of "verticality" to and also a way of emphasizing the high altar. In addition, for altars where there is a ciborium magnum or a grand reredos, there is also an element of a harmony of proportions. To help demonstrate the point, I thought I would provide a comparison which I believe helps to demonstrate this in action once again. The example in question comes from the church of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs in Paris.

To the left we see the high altar as it presently stands without its candles in place. To the right, however, is how the altar was traditionally and historically dressed. While it is true that the absence of the tall candles better reveals the one portion of the painted altarpiece behind, the presence of the tall candlesticks both better unifies the altar with the altarpiece and, what's more, it also helps to emphasize the altar itself -- which is surely the more critical component to emphasize. What's more, the obscuring factor in this particular instance is significantly the result of the fact there are not merely the usual six high altar candlesticks here, but as is often seen in countries like France and Malta, more have been added in addition. To my mind, reducing this to the usual six would provide a very nice balance between the these two poles. What is clear from the current configuration, however, is that the short altar candlesticks simply do not harmonize the parts to the whole by comparison and makes the altar almost underwhelming.

It has often been my thought that one of the most unfortunate developments in the post-conciliar era has frequently been the loss of this sense of proper proportion and harmony of the altar and its candlesticks/candles for, very frequently, shorter candles seems have come to be preferred, even on traditional, non versus populum altars. 

It is my hope that by showing these case studies, parish priests and sacristans can re-approach this matter in a way that reclaims the beauty, dignity and iconic look and feel of the Latin rite altar.

High Altar, Cathedral of Siena

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