St James's Church, Hampton Hill

The high altar and its reredos


The High Altar
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The high altar is made of oak and lives in the sanctuary. It is a raised table used for the celebration of the Eucharist/Holy Communion. It is sometimes called the 'Lord's Table' or the 'Communion Table' because it represents the table where Jesus shared the last supper with his disciples.

The high altar has not been used for parish communion since 1964. Instead, a portable altar, normally kept in the south aisle, is carried to the front of the chancel. This means the priest faces the congregation instead of having his back to it up in the sanctuary.

The altar cross, two candlesticks and a brass bible stand are kept on the high altar. The altar cross is inscribed "Sacred to the memory of Henry Bendy 1936" and the altar candlesticks are inscribed "Sacred to the memory of Howard Fletcher 1939". The brass and plate in St James's Church reflects, not only the light created by human beings, but also, symbolically, the light of the Holy Spirit.

The Lamp

The cross

The High Altar

An altar frontal

The Lamp

Candlestick


Altar linen

The altar is covered with several different special cloths, collectively called altar linens. They are so called because Jesus’ graveclothes were made out of linen. They cover the altar during services and celebrations, and also when the altar is not being used. The cloths are put on the altar in a particular order, working from the altar table itself up through the layers in the following order:
The cere cloth, originally a piece of heavy linen treated with wax, is used to protect both the altar and the other cloths. Cere comes from the Latin for wax. It fits the top of the altar exactly.
The linen cloth, also made of linen and fits the top of the altar exactly. It acts as a cushion and, with the cere cloth, protects the altar.
The fair linen, a long white linen cloth laid over the linen cloth, is left on the altar all the time. Like the other two cloths, it is the same depth as the top of the altar, but longer, so hangs over the edges to within a few inches of the floor. It is usually trimmed with lace on the ends and symbolizes the shroud in which Jesus was wrapped for burial. Five small crosses, symbolising the five wounds of Jesus, are embroidered on it, one at each corner of the top of the altar, and one in the middle of the front edge.
The coverlet, another heavy linen cloth, the same length and width as the fair linen, is left on the altar whenever it is not in use. It simply protects the altar from dust and debris.


Altar frontals

The frontals are the same size as the front of the altar, made of tapestry, silk or damask, and are richly decorated. There are different colours according to the time in the liturgical season. Explanations and examples of these colours can be found on the page Colours of the Christian Year.

Altar Frontal

Altar Frontal

Altar Frontal



The Altar Reredos
The Altar Reredos
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The reredos

Behind the high altar is a beautifully carved stone ornamental screen called a reredos. The word reredos comes from an Anglo-Norman 14th century term areredos, from arere behind and dos back, from the Latin dorsum. It is also known as an 'altar-piece'. A reredos can be simple or elaborate.

In St James's Church the reredos has several religious symbols. The central panel has a cross in marble. When St James's was first built, it is unlikely that there was a cross on the high altar. In those days this marbel cross would have been seen as unacceptable in a 'Protestant' church. A cross in marble on the wall, though, may have been thought better. If the altar cross is removed from the high altar, as it is in Lent, the reredos cross provides a very obvious focus for the church, drawing one's eyes towards it. Above the cross there is an apex stone showing a dove carving, representing the Holy Spirit and peace, with and fern leaf decorations. The inset panels of the reredos have decorative tile patterns, shown below.

The cross is flanked by carvings of bread and wheat, and wine and grapes. The altar is the focus of the celebration of the eucharist or holy communion, when bread and wine are taken and shared. The depiction not just of the final products of bread and wine, but also of the ingredients wheat and grapes further remind us at the Harvest Festival that at the eucharist we use the fruits of the harvest in the Church's principal act of worship.

The dove on the reredos

The dove on the reredos

The dove on the reredos

Angel on the reredos

Angel on the reredos

Angels on the reredos

The bread and wine on the reredos

The bread and wine on the reredos

The bread and wine on the reredos


St James's Church
The Parish Church of St James, Hampton Hill, TW12 1DQ
Main site: stjames-hamptonhill.org.uk