The Altar Vase - Examples from the 18th Through 20th Centuries

There was a time, not so very long ago, when every facet of the liturgy was given a particular attention to detail. This encompassed not only the rites themselves but went down even to such elements as the flowers placed upon the altar. Because of the dignity of the altar, if not also practical reasons, potted plants were generally not something placed upon them, instead cut flowers were the norm -- and where one has cut flowers one needs vases to put them in; yes, even the vases often had a liturgical expression.

Current approaches to these sorts of things tends to be a little more "utilitarian" -- a polite way of saying not terrifically edifying or inspiring -- but in previous times (and there is no reason it could not also be for present times) one would commonly see specific altar vases used, frequently made of metal (though sometimes also ceramic), and ornamented similarly to altar candlesticks, cross and reliquaries. When placed upon a high altar along with the candlesticks and cross, they make for a very noble display indeed.

These are items of liturgical art that rarely receive much attention and, no doubt, many today might even be oblivious to their existence. So with that in mind, I thought we'd take a moment to look at a few examples of altar vases comes in a few different shapes and sizes.

20th century

19th century

19th century


19th-20th century

18th century

20th century


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