The Fraternité Saint-Vincent-Ferrier's Stunning New Altar in France

The Fraternité Saint-Vincent-Ferrier (SFVF) is a religious community of friars based in France in the footprint of the Dominican Order. Inspired by the friars preachers, they are under the patronage of St. Vincent Ferrier, the apostle of difficult times, and St. Thomas Aquinas, whose wisdom the Church recommends to us because it is open to all truth. The friars model themselves after St. Dominic, whose only concern was to save men by leading them to Christ through the mercy of the truth. Their English-language website can be seen here

The New Altar

It has been called an iconographic project worthy of the Middle Ages. On Saturday, September 30th, the Feast of St. Jerome, the friars dedicated a new high altar for their conventual church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Chémeré-le-Roi. Dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary (Notre-Dame du Rosarie), it was consecrated in a beautiful ceremony by the Most Reverend Alain Castet, retired bishop of the Diocese of Luçon. 

The altar is a veritable work of art, a beautiful Medieval style triptych, with statues and panels in bas-relief, divided into multiple sections that display intricately carved and painted images on panels hinged together in a carved and colored retable. Every piece was made of hand-carved and painted wood, with gilded highlights. The mensa of the actual altar top is an insert made of polished marble -- this holds the sepulchre (the relics were placed in here during the rite of consecration). 

Below can be seen the detail of the central register, depicting Our Lady with the Infant Jesus. Needless to say, in today's day and age, a newly created work of this scale is a rare and welcome sight. Our Lady shines in golden raiment, covering Dominican saints and blessed in her mantle of protection. 

The carved fretwork and pinnacles that soar to the heavens speak of elegance and beauty and permanence. Here in these images the fenestrated details can be studied and admired, complete with columns and gold leaf details. Architectural beauty (concinnitas) is perceived as the appropriate fitting of part to part. 

The incredible tabernacle can be seen below, created with great attention to detail. It is of gilded wood, of immense artist merit, designed in Italian Renaissance style.  artist himself traveled to France to assemble the altar and to be present for its dedication. 

About 1,200 faithful gathered for the beautiful ceremony of the dedication. The rite of consecration can be seen here. More information on the project can be found in a recent Rorate Caeil interview available here

Made in the image and lineage of historic Medieval altars, the new altar was designed to be a catechism in pictures, an altar that preaches - to the wise and simple. After two years of construction, it springs up in the sanctuary as a powerful sign of the eloquence of the Faith: an indication of the reality of salvation history and the cloud of witnesses that surround the altar of sacrifice, raising prayers up to the heavens.  

The altar was created in the Tyrol by a sixty-five year old Italian artist, Mr. Remy Insam, who comes from a venerable lineage of German-speaking wood sculptors in the South Tyrol of Italy. He lives and works in the village of Sankt-Ulrich, in the mountains near the Austro-Hungarian border. For forty years Mr. Insam has built and sculpted wooden altars. Most notably, he created the Gothic master altar of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Fatima in the Diocese of Karaganda in Kazakhstan, a commission brought about through the good graces of Bishop Athanasius Schneider.  

In his own words, the artist has said this altar will be his last work before retiring and the "most beautiful" altar of his career. He leaves an incredible legacy that will continue on well into the future. Below is an image that illustrates the before and after altars in the new chapel, highlighting the difference between the two.

The Friars and Their Important Work

The friars are headquartered in Chémeré-le-Roi, in Mayenne. They celebrate the traditional liturgy of the Church -- namely, the Classical Liturgy with Gregorian Chant -- important because these are the models of prayer that put the soul in the unparalleled joy of truth and in the song of beauty. 

These useful ancient forms of prayer are still relevant today because they help in an elevated way to "contemplate and communicate to others the truth contemplated” (Saint Thomas Aquinas). The preaching of the friars is oriented to the salvation of souls through the light of Christ. 

The friars are doing good work in France, with ardor and with all their strength, to make themselves useful to the souls of their neighbors (cf. their Constitutions). The apostolic life of their work shines on three axis: spirituality, formation, and the family. The friars host retreats and publish books. They are commonly seen at the annual Chartres Pilgrimage. 

Visitors are welcome to visit their headquarters just a few hours west of Paris. Solemn Mass is celebrated each day at 10:30 am. Visitors are also welcome to participate in the public hours of the Divine Office, chanted in common in their main chapel. And to visit their gift shop. 

To donate, see here. The YouTube channel of the friars can be seen here. The friars are still collecting donations for the project. Please be generous. This new altar is a piece of history and hopefully it will inspire other pastors and religious communities to do the same. 


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