by Kim Rendfeld
Used at sickbeds, on Christian missions to pagan lands, and by invading armies, these consecrated altars provided a fitting place for Mass and the wine and the altar bread—the literal presence of Christ—and sometimes the relics of a saint. The message: God is with you.
This was an era when prayers were a means to victory. Before a war with the Avars in 791, for example, Charlemagne and other Franks observed three days of litanies and abstained from wine and meat, all to ensure that God would grant victory to the Christian Franks over the pagan Avars. Charles would say the prayers worked.
|An 11th century portable altar of copper gilt |
with enamel and porphyry,from Walters Art
Museum (public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0
or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons)
Despite their weight, these special altars didn’t slow down the march. Loaded with armor, weapons, food, tents (for the wealthy), and other supplies, armies typically moved 12 to 15 miles a day with priests and monks, aristocrats’ servants, laundresses, prostitutes, and other people accompanying the warriors.
In pagan lands, the battles were for souls as well as territory, and the altars reminded Christians they won the war with divine assistance more powerful than pagan deities, a concept I used in The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar. But Christian victory was often short lived among the Continental Saxons, as evidenced by Christian sources’ frequent complaints about broken baptismal vows.
The altar’s meaning depended on the viewer’s religion. In a strange land, the Christian army found comfort in a familiar worship service. The pagans, however, might see it as a symbol of oppression.
The Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture, Volume 2, by Colum Hourihane
The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Christianity, edited by John H. Arnold
Charlemagne, Translated Sources, by P.D. King
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