Three Varieties of Processional Canopies

Continuing on with some of our considerations around Corpus Christi, aside from the monstrance in which the Blessed Sacrament is carried, one of the next most identifiable pieces of liturgical art that gains particular prominence at this time of liturgical year is the processional canopy.
Two kinds of canopy are employed in processions of the Blessed Sacrament. One of small dimensions and shaped like an umbrella--except that it is flat and not conical is called an ombrellino. It is provided with a long staff by which it is held. The other, called a baldacchino, is of more elaborate structure and consists, in main outline, of a rectangular frame-work of rich cloth, supported by four, six, or eight staves by which it is carried. In both cases the covering consists of cloth of gold, or silk of white color. The ombrellino is used for carrying the Blessed Sacrament to the sick and for conveying it from the altar to the baldacchino. The latter is used for all public processions, when it is borne by nobles of the highest rank, the more worthy holding the foremost staves.
-- Source: The Catholic Encyclopedia
The object of our focus today is not the ombrellino but the other, more substantive canopy that is typically seen in outdoor processions. (As an aside, some readers may be surprised to hear this referred to as a "baldacchino," associating that instead with an architectural structure, the ciborium magnum, that is placed over an altar -- such as the high altar of St. Peter's Basilica. However,  what must be remembered is that the origins of the word, baldacchino, comes with reference to canopies that were made of a precious fabrics, exactly like a processional canopy is. In fact, "baldacchino" is derived from the Italian word for the Persian city of Baghdad where these textiles often came from historically. Understanding that, one can see how this is actually a more historical usage of the term when used in relation to a processional canopy.)

At any rate, I thought it might be of interest to our readers to look at some different types and examples of processional canopies. This might also be of particular use for clerics who are thinking about commissioning new canopies and who wish to target one ora another style.

The first style of canopy that I would show readers today is probably the most classic, being held up staves, the canopy itself hanging loosely. When carried properly, these are one of the most dignified form of canopies in my estimation; there is something that is both regal and natural about it at one and the same time. (This, incidentally, was also the style of canopy that would be carried over the Roman pontiff when he was carried upon the sedia gestatoria.)

Processional canopy of Ss. Trinita dei Pellegrini, Rome
The key to carrying canopies of this type in a dignified and orderly way is to ensure that the staves are all held at the same general height. One way to accomplish this is by placing a small piece of tape on each stave, set at eye level, to serve as a guide for each respective canopy bearer as to how high he needs to hold his stave to ensure the canopy is kept reasonably level.

Here is another canopy of this same type from the London Oratory:

Moving along, the next type of processional canopy I wished to share is one that employs a frame. The idea behind a frame is, of course, to make the canopy hang neatly and squarely.  Here are two examples:

St. Eugene, Paris
Venice. Carrying the Blessed Sacrament is the future Pope St. Pius X, then Patriarch of Venice. 
Quite impressive I think.

As in the case of the previous style of canopy, the staves are still free and independent of one other. I note this because there is another variation on a framed processional canopy where that is not the case, which brings us to the third type.

In this instance, a frame is likewise used for the canopy itself, but it further employs the use of horizontal spacer bars between the vertical poles. The intent here, of course, is to keep the canopy  square.

FSSP in Lyon

In the case of this sort of canopy, having canopy bearers of the same approximate height will be of particular importance given how these have to be carried -- admittedly, I am slightly less inclined toward this third type if only because the horizontal bars can be somewhat distracting (a kind of visual barrier if you will ) which makes the canopy feel less natural and fluid; still, it's a minor point.

Before I leave this subject, I would also invite readers to take a close look at the actual canopies themselves (i.e. the textile component) and consider the different designs seen here. You will note that there is some variety to their respective designs, though also a consistency.

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