29 January 2015

Altars of Christ Church, Chattanooga

First, some terminology.  The actual altar is the base.  Its top, or table, is called the mensa.  The shelves at the back which look like steps are called the retable.  The wooden screen behind the altar, some much more elaborate than others, some lacking one completely, is a reredos.  This last is sometimes confused with a rood screen, which is a wooden panel screening off the nave from the chancel, but with ample opening for the congregation to see what is going on.  These get their name from the cross, or rood, at the center top.

High altar of Christ Church

The Daughters of the King donated Christ Church’s first high altar, the one it used in the chapel in the Lewis Shepherd house and later after the new building opened 12 April 1908. 

In 1913, St. John the Evangelist in Toledo, Ohio, gifted Christ Church with what was for us a new high altar, and the Guild installed it at no cost to the parish in time for Easter that year, as reported by the wardens that Easter Monday.

(High altar, Christ Church, Weeks after Epiphany, 2015)

Around the same time that Fr. Robertson was communicating with Ralph Adams Cram in the 1920’s about plans for the renovation of the interior, parishioners started a fund for an even bigger altar than that received from St. John’s.  In the end, however, widening of that altar was incorporated into the plans drafted by Cram (and modified by local contractor Louis Bull) instead.  Careful examination will render obvious which part of the altar is original.

In addition to the widening, the first reredos donated to the original building by Mrs. Mary Walker and Mrs. E. C. Johnson fell victim to the renovation, along with the original retable.

The altar stone in its mensa was gifted to the parish in late 1944 or later.

Lady Chapel altar

The altar in the Lady Chapel, off  the epistle side of the narthex, was gifted as a memorial of Elizabeth Theone Hawk by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. M. P. Hawk.

(Lady Chapel altar, Christ Church, Weeks after Epiphany, 2015)

In the photographs from the Nativity Pageant of 1952 hanging on the wall of the working sacristy, the altar appears to be an entirely different model, but it is indeed the same.  Originally, the altar in the Lady Chapel had a retable (the shelves on back that look like steps) like the high altar.  

(Lady Chapel, Christ Church, Altar of Repose, 1942)

The retable was removed at the behest of the then current rector in 1989.

Side altars

In the original Christ Church nave opened on 12 April 1908, there were no side chapels off the chancel.  Creating them was part of Cram’s suggested renovations, of which the altars and their tabernacles were part.  

According to archive records, the altar on the Epistle side is officially the Altar of St. Joseph and the altar on the Gospel side is the Altar of St. Mary the Virgin.

(St. Joseph altar, Christ Church, Weeks after Epiphany, 2015)

(St. Mary's altar, Christ Church, Weeks after Epiphany, 2015)

St. John the Evangelist, Toledo, Ohio

Founded in 1863 as a mission of Trinity Church in Toledo, with Fr. Nathaniel R. High as its first rector.  Upon his death in 1884, the parish called Fr. Charles DeGarmo of the Diocese of Pennsylvania.  The liturgical and physical make-up of St. John’s almost immediately took a turn toward the Anglo-Catholic.  Fr. Degarmo instituted sung Mass, had a rood screen put in between the chancel and the sanctuary, hung a rather large and graphic crucifix above the high altar, used six candles rather than the simple two, and, horror of horrors, placed a side altar on one side of the chancel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

These High Church (Anglo-Catholic) practices brought Fr. DeGarmo and St. John the Evangelist into direct conflict with the rest of the diocese, which was intensely Low Church (Evangelical, or Calvinistic), along with its very Calvinist-oriented Ordinary, Bishop George Bedell.  In 1887, Bishop Bedell and his council sent the parish a letter admonishing Fr. DeGarmo for the changes at the parish since his arrival and calling on him to recant.

(St. John the Evangelist, Toledo, Ohio)

One can only imagine the heads of that bishop and of those council members exploding upon walking into Christ Church.

The vestry of St. John’s responded with a letter condemning Bishop Bedell’s actions and having a copy published in the city’s main newspaper, which proves the direction taken was not just the will of the rector alonge.  The conflict ended only when Fr. DeGarmo accepted the call to a parish in the Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1888, after which the parish found itself saddled with a more compliant priest.

In 1912, the parish’s attendance and membership had dwindled to the point where it could barely keep its doors open.  Its vestry voted to merge with another struggling parish in Toledo, Calvary Episcopal, upon which the twain became St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.  Since the new parish occupied the facilities of the former Calvary Episcopal, the vestments, furnishings, font, candlesticks, and other accoutrements were sold off or donated.  With Christ Church in Chattanooga having a reputation as the first Anglo-Catholic parish in the South, it probably seemed natural to gift it with St. John’s high altar.

(Calvary/St. Alban's, Toledo, Ohio)

Information on St. John’s from Fr. Brian Wilbert, archivist of the Diocese of Ohio and rector of Christ Church, Oberlin, Ohio.

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