Yesterday we looked at church vestments and the work of the Truro Cathedral's Sewing Guild. The guild also cares for the altar cloths at the Cathedral.
Altar cloths are used by many religious groups as a sign of respect towards the holiness of the altar, as in the Catholic Church.
Cloths can also be used to protect the altar surface or to beautify the altar.
The use of altar-cloths goes back to the early centuries of the Roman Catholic Church. By the fourth century, during the celebration of Holy Communion, the altar was covered with a white linen cloth. Symbolically, the cloths represent the purity and the devotion of God’s Faithful, and the linens in which the body of Christ was wrapped when he was laid in the tomb.
In the Roman Catholic Church the custom of using three altar-cloths began in the ninth century. The reason being that if the Precious Blood should by accident be spilt it might be absorbed by the altar-cloths before it reached the altar-stone. There are four symbolic colors: red, white, violet and green, while black is sometimes used for funerals.
Red symbolizes the color of fire to represent the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and times when the work of the Holy Spirit is emphasized. During Holy Week it represents the blood of Christ. Red is also used for ordinations, church anniversaries and civil observances such as Memorial Day and Thanksgiving.
At Truro Cathedral there is a magnificent red altar cloth "The Angels and the Censer" which I was able to study in close detail on my visit.
I am trying to find out more about the altar cloth, when it was made and who did the originally embroidery. I will be visiting the Courtney Library shortly to carry out some further research. I do, however, know that the altar cloth was repaired in more recent years by Sheila Landi of The Landi Company.
If you are interested in textile conservation Landi's book "The Textile Conservator's Manual" is worth adding to your library.
Truro Cathedral has some altar cloths on permanent display. (The photographs have been taken through glass)
Besides the grandeur of the Gothic architecture and the magnificence of the stained glass windows there is much to see at the Cathedral. Tucked away in a small corner of the Cathedral next to the books of remembrance is a small sampler - on every visit I take time to
read it and say a prayer.
For over nine hundred years, Cornwall was part of the Diocese of Exeter. The sheer size of that Diocese meant that the Bishop of Exeter was a rare visitor west of the Tamar, and there was a growing pressure from the leading Cornish Anglicans during the nineteenth century to create a separate diocese for Cornwall.
In 1877, after 30 years of intense lobbying, the Cornish Diocese was re-established at Truro. The Diocese of Truro covers the whole of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly plus two parishes in Devon!
The site chosen in Truro for the Cathedral was where the Parish Church of St Mary’s stood. Since at least 1259, and probably before, there has been a Parish Church of St Mary located on this site. When Truro was chosen it was assumed that the Parish Church would be completely demolished to make way for the Cathedral. However, the architect John Loughborough Pearson, argued and eventually gained permission to keep at least part of the old Parish Church. He cleverly incorporated the South Aisle of the church into his design for the new Cathedral.
Truro Cathedral was the first cathedral to be built on a new site since Salisbury was started in 1220.
Edward White Benson was the first Bishop of Truro (1877 - 1883). He was previously Headmaster of Wellington College and then Chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral. It was his vision and energy that really established the new Diocese of Truro and the building of this wonderful Cathedral. From 1883 until his death in 1896 he was Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1880 Bishop Benson created the ‘Service of Nine Lessons and Carols’ which for over 120 years has formed part of the Cathedral’s traditional worship on Christmas Eve.
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