The revolution continues in St. Peter’s: hideous Alien altar REPLACED

Our friend John Sonnen of Orbis Catholicus has photographic evidence that the hideous eye-sore altar set up in the apse of St. Peter’s Basilica, to replace the "altar of the Chair", has been removed and replaced.

Rinascimento Sacro has a great slide show revealing how the old monstrosity was removed.

My favorite shot is of the old altar dragged out and sitting all forlorn next to the organ case back near the altar of St. Leo.

You will recall that the old one, set up at the time of Paul VI looked like something out of Alien.

Here it is at the funeral of the late great Card. Stickler:

Let’s change the contrast on that and crop it so you can get a good look at its alien characteristics.

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61 Responses to The revolution continues in St. Peter’s: hideous Alien altar REPLACED

  1. Mitch says:

    It looks like this new altar could easily be move back up against the wall since it is attached to the wood base not fixed to the marble floor. I hope for more future changes with this altar! (well only 1, altar + wall = continuity with architecture of building, new altar + free standing = lack of continuity with history and architecture of building)But at aleast that old monstrosity is gone, I’m sure they will find a nice home for it somewhere, maybe in a museum since il Papa has been puting their collections back into use they need something that is actually outdated to take its place…

  2. Father Bartoloma says:

    It always looked like an ironing board to me. HUGE IMPROVEMENT!

  3. Andrew says:

    From the link to the slide show it appears that an, albeit modern, Benedictine arrangement has been permanently set up on this altar. Not quite sure about the crucifix they’ve chosen and the candles are very short, but at least they’re there.

  4. Fr. Guy says:

    While that modern altar was rather ugly it may be of interest to some to note that it was not originally intended to be used indoors at the altar of the chair. Rather, it was created to be used outside on the piazza. Pope Paul VI was fond of contemporary art (evidenced by the cross he used to carry and the hideous “scary Jesus” sculpture behind the throne in the Audience Hall). The ugly modern altar was created in his pontificate for the many outdoor masses. It was Cardinal Noe who, under John Paul II, placed that ugly bronze altar in the apse of St. Peter’s. Happily now it is all in the past.

  5. Steve says:

    The altar you are all referring to was created in the USA (Archdiocese of Philadelphia while Cardinal Krol was Archbishop)and was a gift to Pope Paul VI by its sculptor. I find it extremely insulting that any altar be referred to as hideous because it is one of the symbols of Jesus Christ. If you don’t like a style of art or architecture agree to disagree. “See how these Christians love one another.”

  6. Andy K. says:

    As if anyone needs proof that God loves us!

    Steve,
    Then, instead of insulting the old altar, I’ll just say this.
    It was one of the worst looking Jesus Christ symbols I’ve seen.

  7. robert says:

    The is a wonderful improvement, and hopefully just a first step in the direction of restoring the original altar. As for the cross and candles, they are very disappointing and I hope they will be replaced with a traditional set soon.
    Steve, I hate to disappoint you, but liturgical art can be hideous, be it a baptismal font or be it an altar, etc. It does not matter whether it was a gift of an Archdiocese, commissioned by a bishop or cardinal, or sculpted by a world renowned artist. Bad art is bad art. If it is insulting to you that an altar be referred to as hideous, please understand my viewpoint as well. To me, it is an insult to God and his Church that anyone could possibly commission a sculpture that resembles a cave from the depths of hell to be used for the holy sacrifice of the Mass, and it is equally insulting to have it placed in Saint Peter’s Basilica of all places. It is simply inappropriate in my view. I fully believe that prayer is good wherever it is offered, but we should always strive to provide the finest and most suitable artworks for our churches. This hideous piece cannot be classified as suitable.

  8. John Polhamus says:

    May I live to see Bernini restored, or an equally inspired modern better his original work, were it possible. But Thanks Be to God I have lived to see THAT thing sent packing. May its bronze be melted down and re-used to make a statue of St. Peter ENTHRONED!!

  9. TNCath says:

    Sooooooo much better! Deo gratias! I hope the small, squatty candles are next. All in good time.

  10. Bernie says:

    I hope that someday the altar at the crossing in Notre Dame (Paris) will be replaced with one more in harmony with the building.

  11. William Tighe says:

    Hmm, is the “new” replacement altar really new? My first visit to Rome was in 1974, and I have a recollection that the “new” altar was there, before the “ironing board monstrosity” replaced it. Can anyone recall, or come up with, a date for the installation of the latter?

  12. Derik says:

    The modern looking Altar does not fit into the artistic environment of St. Peter’s Basilica. It may fit into a modern Church. Modern art may not always look beautiful to all eyes, but ‘classical’ art always looks beautiful.

    I wonder whose relic’s are in the modern looking altar?

  13. 1 more hideous altar gone from our midst.

  14. Jonathan Bennett says:

    Wonderful! Next, lets dynamite the Nervi Audience Hall!

  15. Ioannes Andreades says:

    I suppose this means that the original altar of the chair is gone gone.

  16. Steve says:

    Deo Gratias! I remember that horrible thing from when i spent a semester abroad in Rome.. they had the latin novus ordo on it every sunday which was a plus, but i felt like i was on the Nostromo instead of St. Peter’s.

  17. TJM says:

    I’m glad they replaced that altar. However, I have to admit I am shocked that they didn’t disguise the old one for Cardinal Stickler’s funeral with a beautiful frontal. Cardinal Stickler deserved that courtesy as a staunch defender of the old liturgy. Tom

  18. Martin says:

    Wonderful stuff.
    Benedict is doing more changes in 3 years than what took place in the previous 40!!

  19. julian large says:

    At the risk of sounding like a party-pooper, I have to say that the coat-hanger altar was a far more authentic expression of the culture of forward-facing altars. I wouldn’t want to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at either of them.

  20. Jordanes says:

    Ioannes said: I suppose this means that the original altar of the chair is gone gone.

    That seems to be the case. Over at Rorate Caeli some months ago, someone commented about being an eyewitness on the day it was jackhammered and broken to bits.

  21. John says:

    “I suppose this means that the original altar of the chair is gone gone.”

    Bernini’s orginal work did not include an Altar. A movable Altar was used until an Altar was built in the early 20th century. That is the Altar that was removed for the modern one.

  22. Patrick says:

    I’m pretty sure there was no original altar of the chair. If I remember, the old ad apsidem altar was only 80-100 years old or so. And yes, I believe it was broken apart when removed.

  23. Jonathan Bennett says:

    Are we sure this is a new Altar and not just the alienesque monstrosity covered up with a frontal?

  24. Frank H says:

    There is an extensive article on the original Bernini altar at

    http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2006/08/liturgical-renewal-at-saint-peters-how.html

  25. Howard says:

    This would have been an interesting table or something, it’s just inappropriate as an altar. I’m not sure it isn’t at least as good as the altars I see that seem to be made by the same guys who make pool tables.

    Personally, my objection is to any altar not made of stone.

  26. Chris says:

    Steve, just because it’s in a church, doesn’t mean it’s worthy of our Lord.

    Father hit it on the head — it looks alien. An alien altar for a Mass that is alien to all the canonized saints.

    Truth is, any freestanding altar is hideous. This is just a step up from the last.

  27. Justin says:

    “Truth is, any freestanding altar is hideous.”

    Nonsense. A great many beautiful altars are free standing. You only have to look at the High Altars of the four patriarchal basilicas to see that. Ditto the High Altar of great buildings like Westminster Cathedral, etc.

  28. Chris says:

    Justin, by hideous, I’m not just talking esthetics.

    I’m referring to the symbolism of the free standing altar and the new mass turning away from the Lord and towards man.

  29. o.h. says:

    It reminds me greatly of tthe altar in my former (thank heavens) parish–Holy Spirit, in Berkeley–about which the best that can be said is that it is less horrific than the crucifix.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/calnewman/GeneralNewmanPictures#5052414689975525314

  30. jacobus says:

    “Truth is, any freestanding altar is hideous.”

    You know that there is a freestanding altar 100 ft away that is rather famous and has been there for centuries, yes?

    Is it also hideous?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Interiorvaticano8.jpg

  31. Justin says:

    Chris –

    I think a better phrasing than “any freestanding altar is hideous” would be that the symbolism of any altar is Christ and his sacrifice. Some altars convey that symbolism more fully than others – in particular those on which the Mass is celebrated towards the East. There are those altars which in design has become distraction from the Sacred Mysteries.

    I wish we wouldn’t resort to empty rhetoric to make a point, because as is blatantly obvious we don’t really mean what we say when we use terms like no altar should be free-standing. The outrage that would happen in this combox should the free-standing High Altar of St Peter’s be ripped out from under its baldachinno and affixed to a wall would be sure proof of that.

  32. Perhaps the most charitable way to speak of the bronze “anvil” altar would be to describe it as an outstanding example of Modern Art.

  33. Maureen says:

    Three and a half years of bricks, and here we are — just in time for all the holidays at the end and beginning of the year. :)

  34. Chris says:

    jacobus, it depends on how it’s being used.

  35. Amadan says:

    I hate to throw a wet towel on things but, Not so fast!

    http://www.olfatima.com/October%2023%202008.html

  36. Ian says:

    I’m encouraged to see a more fitting altar back in that chapel. However, it is not a break with continuity to see the altar separated from the wall, in fact, a fixed and consecrated altar should be free standing, according to ancient tradition and even the rite for consecrating an altar (which has the bishop circle around the altar seven times). The Missal for the older rite of Mass also gives detailed diagrams for how to incense a freestanding altar (which was not uncommon).

    Where there’s arguably still room from improvement … a better place for the altar is to put it back up on the old predella, but a couple of meters from the reredos. If necessary, expand that predella to accomodate this. Allow Mass to be said on either side of the altar and provide more room for seating. With both the old ironing board and the new altar, they look to be almost 15 or 20 meters from the reredos. It makes very little sense to have the “altar of the chair” so distant from the chair.

    The altar should be freestanding, ideally with some kind of canopy, but at least closer to its former position both for continuity of tradition and architectural intention, but also because that great distance creates a very odd and distracting aesthetic effect. There is nothing to draw one’s eye to the altar (since the mothership took the one that did draw the eye toward it and draw lunch upward) and the eye passes the altar and goes right to the flamboyant reredos.

    That said. I’m happy to see this change. Small steps.

  37. Andy K. says:

    Amadan:
    Um… Is that a Society church?

  38. Ioannes Andreades says:

    o.h.,

    When I was there, we used to call it Fred Flintstone’s church. Some trully bizarre stuff used to go on in that place, though I will always remember with fondness the priest who proclaimed the gospel every Sunday from memory.

  39. Ioannes Andreades says:

    Does this mean there is going to be a rededication of the altar sometime soon or perhaps February 22?

  40. Phillip says:

    I would not trust or visit the site Amadan gives, as it is sedevacatist.

  41. sharon stockard says:

    Who cares who designed it, for inside or outside,,,,,,,,,,,It’s gone and what a beautiful replacement. Thank God.

  42. Mike says:

    Free-standing and “facing East” are not in competition – the Syriac Liturgy of St. James celebrated by the Malankara Catholic Church, the altar is traditionally free-standing to allow for the procession around the altar and the Holy Qurbono is always celebrated facing liturgical East.

  43. David2 says:

    Amadan,

    I think you would benefit from a little further information about St Mary’s Cathedral altar. I’ve seen it, and it is not the monstrosity some people make it out to be.

    This shows an interesting history of the sanctuary in photos:

    http://coo-eesfromthecloister.blogspot.com/2006/11/sydney-altar-ations.html

    This large photo shows the new altar:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a8/SaintMarys_CathedralSydney.jpg

    Three points:

    1. The origirinal “high” altar was always somewhat dwarfed by the screen behind it such that it almost seemed as though the Archdiocese ran out of money before they got to building the altar.

    2. The new freestanding altar is less of a “table” than the old (lock at the image of its structure, visible after vandalism), in the first link, and as such, is better than the old.

    3. The new altar can be used “both ways”, the altar rails are still present; and the whole effect is not too bad at all. FWIW the original altar is still there, but I’ve seen bigger and better ones in large Australian parish Churches. It could concievably still be used, but I’m not sure that even traddies are particularly keen to do so. I may be wrong.

    Andy K,

    That website is of an “independent” bishop formerly a SSPXer, then a sedevacantist, and now, ummm, well… a “bishop” of his own little “dioceese”. At least he doesn’t claim to be Pope.

  44. patrick f says:

    In the early days, the christians would say mass over the remains in the catacombs. This is why we have altar relics and such. The altar, atleast to my understanding, should somewhat bring that image to mind.

    What happened with vatican two, is they wanted to stress the “meal” aspect more then anything else. Thus, altars became less and less tomb like, and more a table. However, we still have altar stones, which gives the hint that we are still celebrating on the tombs of the martyrs. This altar, does not strike me as “tomb”.

    Now one challenge i have with the altar shown is it appears to be Iron? Am I right or wrong. Isnt that a no no ? Thought it could only be stone or wood, with of course precious materials for ornimantation.

  45. patrick f says:

    Edit to my post above. Ahh it is bronze. Still my question, is it proper for any altar to be metal? Why not throw a shop table up there….

  46. Matt Q says:

    Mitch wrote:

    “It looks like this new altar could easily be move back up against the wall since it is attached to the wood base not fixed to the marble floor. I hope for more future changes with this altar! (well only 1, altar + wall = continuity with architecture of building, new altar + free standing = lack of continuity with history and architecture of building), but at at least that old monstrosity is gone, I’m sure they will find a nice home for it somewhere, maybe in a museum since il Papa has been putting their collections back into use they need something that is actually outdated to take its place…”

    )(

    That any of that stuff has been replaced is good. Why keep any of it? That stuff isn’t anything to be passed on to posterity, cluttering up the Vatican Museums. Well, I guess they could keep it all in separate display entitled, “Psychological Profiling of Liturgical Creativity and Abuses.”

    ======

    Patrick wrote:

    “I’m pretty sure there was no original altar of the chair. If I remember, the old ad apsidem altar was only 80-100 years old or so. And yes, I believe it was broken apart when removed.”

    )(

    You’re right. In more than one place, I’ve read it was a major demolition job–done with any sort of glee we wonder…?

    ======

    Justin wrote:

    “I wish we wouldn’t resort to empty rhetoric to make a point, because as is blatantly obvious we don’t really mean what we say when we use terms like no altar should be free-standing. The outrage that would happen in this combox should the free-standing High Altar of St Peter’s be ripped out from under its baldachinno and affixed to a wall would be sure proof of that.”

    )(

    Justin, you do have a point. If we say we don’t like something, we don’t like, period. We don’t need anyone qualifying another’s reasons why or why not. If one doesn’t like a statement, too bad.

    As far as free-standing altars are concerned, yes, we can say no altar should be free-standing because there was nothing in the Second Vatican Council saying the altars should be. There was certain cardinal who just took it upon himself to pull some concoction out from under his chasuble and–ta-da–the Novus Ordro.

  47. MPod says:

    I think there’s just a bit of confusion here between the notion of a “free-standing” altar and that of the offering of Holy Mass “versus populum”. The two are not necessarily the same. There’s nothing essentially wrong with the former. That can’t be equally said about the latter.

  48. LeonG says:

    It is not an improvement until it is placed where it should be according to Roman Catholic liturgical tradition.

  49. In the Byzantine East, all Altar Tables are freestanding, in addition to being square (not rectangular) according to the Biblical tradition.

    Glad to see another “abomination” removed from the Temple! Viva il Papa!

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

    PS: One of my favorite prayers from the Maronites, said by the priest after the liturgy:

    “Remain in peace, O holy altar of God, I hope to return to you in peace. May the offering I have received from you forgive my sins and prepare me to stand blameless before the throne of Christ. I know not whether I will be able to return to you again to offer sacrifice. Guard me, O Lord, and protect your holy Church, that she may be the way to salvation and the light of the world. Amen.” (Anaphora of the 12 Apostles)

  50. QC says:

    In regards to the link from Amadan, I used to live near there. That parish used to be sedevacantist (it’s run by a bishop; not sure as to his “lineage” so to speak. Then when Pope Benedict was elected, they declared him the true Pope and restorer of the faith, etc. and declared themselves to be in the same canonical position as the SSPX. They even began providing a link to the local diocese’s webpage. I’m not sure if they continue that position or what…

  51. Br. Andrew, OP says:

    H.R. Geiger would be proud of that altar. Good riddance!

  52. Fr. Guy says:

    “It is not an improvement until it is placed where it should be according to Roman Catholic liturgical tradition.”

    -which, I believe, is determined by the Pope and the example that he gives in his own church, not by other people STILL complaining no matter how much the situation improves. We are in communion with HIM as the source of our unity, not the other way around.

  53. dcs says:

    While I believe that there is nothing wrong with a free-standing altar (there are plenty of examples ancient and modern of dignified and beautiful free-standing altars), I don’t think that it is up to the Pope to determine liturgical tradition. Otherwise four years ago one would have called the ironing-board altar “traditional.”

  54. Geoff says:

    I have been listening to these sermons since they first appeared on WDTPRS and have enjoyed them very much for their clarity and insight. He appears very loyal to Pope Benedict and has some the the best arguments against the FSSPX position and the sedes I have ever heard.

  55. Geoff says:

    QC:

    I have been listening to these sermons since they first appeared on WDTPRS and have enjoyed them very much for their clarity and insight. He appears very loyal to Pope Benedict and has some the the best arguments against the FSSPX position and the sedes I have ever heard.

  56. Will says:

    O.H., that was an interesting picture. There\’s so much wrong with it.
    The priest has his stole over his chasuble.
    The priest\’s streeet clothes are visible.
    Glass Chalices.
    Glass Ciboria.

    Not to mention the appalling architecture.

  57. Cel says:

    Man, that thing wouldn’t even look good as a coffee table. I can’t stand 60s and 70s modern architecture and design. What were we thinking? The only good stuff built in the 70s is the new crop of sensible young priest now hitting some of the luckier small parishes here and about.

  58. Fr. Guy says:

    It is preposterous to assert that the Pope, the bishop OF ROME, and principal liturgist of the Roman Rite does not determine liturgical tradition. For centuries what has made something part of the Roman Rite is that it is done in Rome and sanctioned by the bishop of Rome, the Pope. While the ugly bronze altar would not have been referred to as “traditional” (because of the connotation that word has taken on) it was, whether any of us like it or not, a part of the Tradition of the Roman Rite, albeit an ugly part that didn’t fit among its surroundings but, nevertheless, a part of that Tradition. Just because something isn’t “traditional” (in the antiquarian sense of that word) doesn’t mean it isn’t part of our Tradition. The ugliness of the bronze altar didn’t make it “a-liturgical”. It simply made it unpleasant to look at.

  59. Antiquarian says:

    St Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington has a free-standing altar that has been there since the place was built in the 1890’s.

  60. Luca says:

    About the “free standing” discussion :

    It should be known, but it doesn’t seem, that the roman basilicas are turned westwards and that the Pope celebrates eastwards, that is, incidentally, towards the peolple… It has always been that way and to turn an altar westwards in the St Peter’s Basilica whould be very very untraditional and a reversing of the symbols.
    During carolingian times, many german churces were rebuilt in order to get a west apsis and a roman style altar.

    Paraphonista