The Liturgical Movement in New York: Two Altars

The twentieth century Liturgical Movement was something of a mixed bag as I've long commented but one of the areas where it tended to excel -- at least in the first half of the twentieth century - was the restoration of the ciborium magnum to many churches as well as a move toward more authentic and noble materials for altars more generally. 

Recently I came across two altars shown in an issue of Liturgical Arts Quarterly from 1937 that were designed and executed by a company based out of New York City, Rambusch -- a company that would appear to still be in operation today.

The first involved a high altar designed and executed by Rambusch for the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in New York City under the auspices of Msgr. Cornelius F. Crowley, with Fr. Bartholomew J. Eustace acting as a consultant to the project.  The project is classic early 20th century Liturgical Movement with its use of a ciborium over the altar, a tester behind, altar frontal and a simple gradine.

Church of the Blessed Sacrament, New York City
The altar is devoid of clutter and presents a very good model of genuine noble simplicity.

The second project by Rambusch comes from Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Brooklyn, New York, this time under the guidance of the rector, Fr. John Sephton, CSSR.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Brooklyn
This particular project does not include a ciborium proper, though it does have something of a canopy like reredos -- and it is worth taking a closer look at this piece which includes detailed carvings, including peacocks, characteristic of the ancient Roman Christian tradition.

The facing of the altar itself also has a very Roman quality with its multi-coloured marble, also including decorative carvings.

Two stone-carved angels prominently hold up the patronal parish icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, along with a mosaic backdrop for the entire reredos arrangement.

In addition to the altar, in this particular instance Rambush also designed the apse and altar furnishings.

Projects such as these demonstrate the great promise the Liturgical Movement had as well as some of its accomplishments. Accomplishments such as these demonstrate why it is important that it not be rejected out of hand -- as can be a temptation to some today. As with anything, we must be discerning, sifting the wheat from the chaff -- not throwing out the wheat in the process.

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