A Eucharistic Canopy from the Mid-Nineteenth Century

The use of canopies in a Catholic ceremonial context is itself linked to the Judeo-Christian imperative to cover over (or to use Old Testament terminology, to "tent") that which is considered symbolically important. Traditionally altars were required to be covered by a canopy for example. A bishop's throne (or 'cathedra') is likewise covered by one. There are, in addition, processional canopies. Historically we would see a bishop covered by one on the most solemn of occasions within his diocese and to this day we see a canopy used to cover the Blessed Sacrament when it is carried in solemn procession. 

It is this latter usage that brings us to the particular topic for our article today as we look at a Eucharistic canopy coming from the mid-nineteenth century. This particular canopy dates to the year 1847 and was created in Milan by Giuseppe Martini. It is of typical construction for its time, being comprised of a white silk base that has been ornamented by polychrome silk embroideries. Aside from the usual inclusion of fruits and flowers in the designs, we also find a number of figurative representations including scenes from both the Old and New Testaments. 

The front and back panels of this particular canopy depict images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist (as well as one other saintly bishop whose identity is difficult to discern).

The longer side panels contain six scenes including, first and foremost, a depiction of the Last Supper. 

In addition to this however, we also find a number of other scenes depicted that are Eucharistic in their nature and/or typology. For example, we find a depiction of the miracle of the Manna in the desert mentioned in the Book of Exodus; for those not familiar this is the miracle where bread came down from heaven to provide sustenance to the starving Israelites (a miracle with obvious enough Eucharistic connotations). We also see a depiction of King David in procession with the Ark of the Covenant. How is that relevant you might ask? Well of course, the Ark contained the stone tablets of Moses, which is to say, the "Word of God" and in Christian theology Jesus Christ is the "Word Made Flesh" (the same Flesh and Blood we find and partake of in the Holy Eucharist). This theme of the Word Made Flesh is similarly continued in the reference made to St. John the Baptist -- whom pointed to the same Word Made Flesh. 

The entire design is purposefully rich (and catechetical) in its Eucharistic content.

Finally, here are a few closer details of four of the panel depictions.

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