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Altar Cloths

(1,199 words)

Author(s): Thomas Izbicki
The medieval church developed a complex set of cloths for use at the altar during mass, most of them made of linen, which were to be kept intact and clean because of their sacred purpose. Beginning in late Antiquity, the Christian church used linen to cover the altar tables used in the Eucharist. By the 4th century, these altars came to be made of stone and covered with cloth during liturgies. By the 7th century, cloths were left on the altar continually. The use of linen for this purpose, which emerged with the development of stone altars, was b…

Laws and prohibitions: ecclesiastical

(1,377 words)

Author(s): Thomas Izbicki
There is little evidence of efforts to regulate clerical clothing in the Anglo-Saxon Church in the earliest surviving records. The tonsure cut out of a priest's hair apparently was regarded as setting the clergy apart. Only a papal legate's synod in 787 decreed that bishops should see that canons and canonesses, monks and nuns conduct themselves properly in dress. They were forbidden rich clothing, including that dyed 'with colours of India'. A century later, Pope John VIII warned the English cl…

Bleeding Hosts

(1,582 words)

Author(s): Thomas Izbicki
Tales of hosts, the wafers used in the sacrifice of the mass, that were assaulted and bled, became common in the later Middle Ages. Although these stories usually have been taken as ratification of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, this connection with priestly power is not always clear in individual cases. Some of the hosts were not necessarily consecrated at the time of the supposed "miracle." This was one of the worries experienced by some churchmen when confronted with such relic…

Corpus Christi

(1,463 words)

Author(s): Thomas Izbicki
Establishment of the feast of Corpus Christi, honoring the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, was advocated by Juliana, prioress of Mount Cornillon, in the thirteenth century. She acted on a vision that told her a feast honoring the Eucharistic presence was lacking. Juliana's vision was communicated to the papacy by prominent ecclesiastics. A feast was authorized by Pope Urban IV in 1264, and it was celebrated by his court. The Latin texts for the mass and the office of the feast are attr…

Exhumation and Translation of Saints

(843 words)

Author(s): Thomas Izbicki
The exhumation of saints begins with the recovery of the bodies of martyrs and their burial in catacombs of in private cemeteries. As burial ad sanctos became popular, there grew up a demand for better access to relics. Ultimately, this demand became entangled with issues of control of the holy, securing bodies from plundering raiders and security against theft of relics for resale (see also Theft and Sale of Relics). Authorities began to move bodies, or at least bones, into churches, usually within c…


(924 words)

Author(s): Thomas Izbicki
Accounts of Lawrence's martyrdom vary (see also Martyrs); but he is associated with Pope Saint Sixtus II (257-258), who was martyred, probably by beheading, during the persecution by the Emperor Valerian or his son Gallienus. Lawrence, a deacon, and four companions were executed four days later. He was believed to have been beheaded at a location outside the Porta Salaria. Stories that grew around Lawrence displaced his martyrdom, like that of Sixtus, to the reign of Decius. (Valerian was descri…


(1,659 words)

Author(s): Thomas Izbicki
Eucharistic theology underwent a substantial change during the Middle Ages. The Real Body ( corpus verum) present in the Eucharist became distinguishable from the mystical body of Christ ( corpus mysticum), identified with the church and even with the visible ecclesiastical entity. Ideas of the spiritual presence of Christ were challenged, beginning in Carolingian times, by theologies emphasizing the Real Presence of the Savior. These were tied, at least in part, to developments that emphasized the humanity of Jesus, the rel…

Colours of Liturgical Vestments and Hangings

(1,022 words)

Author(s): Thomas Izbicki
A spectrum of liturgical colours was a later medieval invention. Up to the 12th century, white was the predominant shade for liturgical robes, especially for those given to catechumens preparing for baptism. White signified Easter, the Nativity and purity. The white that could be produced varied according to the material available and how it was treated in preparation, but the symbolism remained the same. The liturgical practice of Rome influenced other churches in the early Middle Ages, but there was no imp…