Friday, December 4, 2009


Today’s architecture piece de jure is the Baldacchino (pronounced Bald – as in what I am – ah – keenoe). The most famous of these is the one in Saint Peter Basilica in Rome designed by Bernini. It is a canopy held up by four pillars intended to be a covering over the altar of sacrifice in order to give it honor and to draw one’s attention to it. Once in common use in the Church (though not universally) the baldacchino has since fallen on hard times. If you are from an older parish and it has not been ripped out entirely it usually sits behind the current altar hopefully finding some use as a canopy of honor over the tabernacle.

Throughout history objects and person of distinction have been marked by such canopies usually made of cloth and poles. The Church eventually adopted this practice to show honor to persons, oft times over the pulpit, over the tabernacle and altar of sacrifice, or over the seat of a bishop for example.

The trend in the Church (because of fewer priests) seems to be toward making mega-parishes that seat a thousand plus. There is also the trend with mixed results over fanned seating or even circular seating. A little three by six altar could get loss in this large space where there is competition for focus. We may be poised to bring back the service of the baldacchino once again.

Here is an excellent article on the baldacchino.

Along the same lines is a tester. It is a flat canopy over an altar and sometimes over a pulpit where it can also serve as a sounding board to help push sound out. It can be part of the ceiling (as it is at Saint Sebastian) or suspended by chains or jutting out of the back wall. It serves much the same purpose as the baldacchino and since it does not require the blocked view that a pillar might cause it may be even more suited for modern church buildings.

Here is another great glossary on church architecture.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This IS a great glossary. Thanks! I must have been absent the day the good sisters taught these terms.