Anatomy of a Maltese Altar

Malta is a small island nation located in the Mediterranean just south of Sicily, but what it lacks in goegraphic size, it more than makes up for in the magnanimity of its liturgical art -- specifically baroque liturgical art. 

Malta has seen many of the traditions of the Church preserved, including its use of hangings for particularly solemn occasions. It is also an island of grand, noble altars, covered still by their canopies (some of which are true baldachin insofar as they comprised of actual textiles). The altars frequently take on a baroque Italian form (which is hardly a surprise given the country's proximity to Italy), including tiered gradines that support monumental candlesticks (six or often even twelve), anthropomorphic reliquaries and portapalme (decorative flower arrangements made from metal, wood and textiles). 

The following photos were taken by a photographer named Patrick Grech at the Kolleggjata Marija Immakulata Bormla located in Bormla (Cospicua) and they will show many of these aforementioned features. In this case we see a baroque altar made of polychrome marbles, surmounted by a two tiered gradine which hosts twelve monumental high altar candlesticks. Above it is found a canopy, in this instance not a true "baldachin" per se, but one made to approximate the look and feel of a textile canopy.   

Detail of the base of one of the candlesticks

Detail of the base of the altar cross

Wonderfully they have kept the baroque altar cards on the altar. Here is a view of the central card with its baroque frame, likely made of silver gilt wood:

This particular altar includes statuary (which could be reliquaries but it is not entirely clear from the photographs) of some of the apostles including, as seen in these details below, St. Andrew and St. Paul.

The portaplame used in Malta frequently take the form, not of fully metallic flowers like one sees in places such as Rome, but rather coloured textiles and stones that form the stylized flowers set onto a base of gilt metal or wood. Here are a few details of portapalme of this type that around found on this particular altar.

If you're not a fan of the baroque style, Malta is likely to send you into fits. If, however, you are a fan of the baroque, Malta is a virtual "Disneyland" of baroque liturgical expression. 

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