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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
(Lat. dedicatio, from dedicare, to proclaim, to announce), properly the setting apart of anything by solemn proclamation. It is thus in Latin the term particularly applied to the consecration of altars, temples and other sacred buildings, and also to the inscription prefixed to a book, &c., and addressed to some particular person. This latter practice, which formerly had the purpose of gaining the patronage and support of the person so addressed, is now only a mark of affection or regard. In law, the word is used of the setting apart by a private owner of a road to public use. (See Highway.) The Feast of Dedication (mm; ra E-y?caivta) was a Jewish festival observed for eight days from the 25th of Kislev (i.e. about December 12) in commemoration of the reconsecration (165 B.C.) of the temple and especially of the altar of burnt offering, after they had been desecrated in the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes (168 B.C.). The distinguishing features of the festival were the illumination of houses and synagogues, a custom probably taken over from the feast of tabernacles, and the recitation of Psalm xxx. The biblical references are 1 Macc. i. 41-64, iv. 36-39; 2 Macc. vi. 1-11; John X. 22. See also 2 Macc. i. 9, 18; ii. 16; and Josephus, Antiq. xii. v. 4. J. Wellhausen suggests that the feast was. originally connected with the winter solstice, and only afterwards with the events narrated in Maccabees.
Dedication of Churches
The custom of solemnly dedicating or consecrating buildings as churches or chapels set apart for Christian worship must be almost as old as Christianity itself. If we find no reference to it in the New Testament or in the very earliest apostolic or post-apostolic writings, it is merely due to the fact that Christian churches had not as yet begun to be built. Throughout the ante-Nicene period, until the reign of Constantine, Christian churches were few in number, and any public dedication of them would have been attended with danger in those days of heathen persecution. This is why we are ignorant as to what liturgical forms and what consecration ritual were employed in those primitive times. But when we come to the earlier part of the 4th century allusions to and descriptions of the consecration of churches become plentiful.
Like so much else in the worship and ritual of the Christian church this service is probably of Jewish origin. The hallowing of the tabernacle and of its furniture and ornaments (Exodus xl.); the dedication of Solomon's temple (1 Kings viii.) and of the second temple by Zerubbabel (Ezra vi.), and its rededication by Judas Maccabaeus (see above), and the dedication of the temple of Herod the Great (Josephus, Antiq. of the Jews, bk. xv. c. xi. § 6), and our Lord's recognition of the Feast of Dedication (St John xi. 22, 23) - all these point to the probability of the Christians deriving their custom from a Jewish origin, quite apart from the intrinsic appropriateness of such a custom in itself.
Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. lib. x. cap. 3) speaks of the dedication of churches rebuilt after the Diocletian persecution, including the church at Tyre in A.D. 314. The consecrations of the church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem in A.D. 335, which had been built by Constantine, and of other churches after his time, are described both by Eusebius and by other ecclesiastical historians. From them we gather that every consecration was accompanied by a celebration of the Holy Eucharist and a sermon, and special prayers of a dedicatory character, but there is no trace of the elaborate ritual, to be described presently, of the medieval pontificals dating from the 8th century onwards.
The separate consecration of altars is provided for by canon 14 of the council of Agde in 506, and by canon 26 of the council of Epaone in 517, the latter containing the first known reference to the usage of anointing the altar with chrism. The use of both holy water and of unction is attributed to St Columbanus, who died in 615 (Walafrid Strabo, Vita S. Galli, cap. 6).
There was an annual commemoration of the original dedication of the church, a feast with its octave extending over eight days, during which Gregory the Great encouraged the erection of booths and general feasting on the part of the populace, to compensate them for, and in some way to take the place of, abolished heathen festivities (Sozomen, Hist. Eccles. lib. ii. cap. 26; Bede, Hist. Eccles. lib. i. cap. 30).
At an early date the right to consecrate churches was reserved to bishops, as by canon 37 of the first council of Bracara in 563, and by the 23rd of the Irish collections of canons, once attributed to St Patrick, but hardly to be put earlier than the 8th century (Haddon and Stubbs, Councils, &c., vol. ii. pt. 2, p. 329).
When we come to examine the MS. and printed service-books of the medieval church, we find a lengthy and elaborate service provided for the consecration of churches. It is contained in the pontifical. The earliest pontifical which has come down to us is that of Egbert, archbishop of York (732-766), which, however, only survives in a loth-century MS. copy. Later pontificals are numerous; we cannot describe all their variations. A good idea, however, of the general character of the service will be obtained from a skeleton of it as performed in this country before the Reformation according to the use of Sarum. The service in question is taken from an early 15th-century pontifical in the Cambridge University Library as printed by W. Makell in Monumenta ritualia ecclesiae Anglicanae, 2nd ed., vol. i. pp. 195-239.
There is a preliminary office for laying a foundation-stone. On the day of consecration the bishop is to vest in a tent outside the church, thence to proceed to the door of the church on the outside, a single deacon being inside the church, and there to bless holy water, twelve lighted candles being placed outside, and twelve inside the church. He is then to sprinkle the walls all round outside, and to knock at the door; then to sprinkle the walls all round outside a second time and to knock at the door again; then to sprinkle the walls all round outside a third time, and a third time to knock at the door, by which he will then enter, all laity being excluded. The bishop is then to fix a cross in the centre of the church, after which the litany is said, including a special clause for the consecration of the church and altar. Next the bishop inscribes the alphabet in Greek letters on one of the limbs of St Andrew's cross from the left east corner to the right west corner on the pavement cindered for the purpose, and the alphabet in Latin on the other limb from the right east corner to the left west corner. Then he is to genuflect before the altar or cross. Then he blesses water, mingled with salt, ashes and wine, and sprinkles therewith all the walls of the church inside thrice, beginning at the altar; then he sprinkles the centre of the church longwise and crosswise on the pavement, and then goes round the outside of the church sprinkling it thrice. Next reentering the church and taking up a central position he sprinkles holy water to the four points of the compass, and toward the roof. Next he anoints with chrism the twelve internal and twelve external wall-crosses, afterwards perambulating the church thrice inside and outside, censing it.
Then there follows the consecration of the altar. First, holy water is blessed and mixed with chrism, and with the mixture the bishop makes a cross in the middle of the altar, then on the right and the left, then on the four horns of the altar. Then the altar is sprinkled seven times or three times with water not mixed with chrism, and the altar-table is washed therewith and censed and wiped with a linen cloth. The centre of the altar is next anointed with the oil of the catechumens in the form of a cross; and the altar-stone is next anointed with chrism; and then the whole altar is rubbed over with oil of the catechumens and with chrism. Incense is next blessed, and the altar censed, five grains of incense being placed crosswise in the centre and at the four corners, and upon the grains five slender candle crosses. which are to be lit. Afterwards the altar is scraped and cleansed; then the altar-cloths and ornaments having been sprinkled with holy water are placed upon the altar, which is then to be censed.
All this is subsidiary to the celebration of mass, with which the whole service is concluded. The transcription and description of the various collects, psalms, anthems, benedictions, &c., which make up the order of dedication have been omitted for the sake of brevity.
The Sarum order of dedication described above is substantially identical with the Roman order, but it would be superfluous to tabulate and describe the lesser variations of language or ritual. There is, however, one very important and significant piece of ritual, not found in the above-described English church order, but always found in the Roman service, and not infrequently found in the earlier and later English uses, in connexion with the presence and use of relics at the consecration of an altar. According to the Roman ritual, after the priest has sprinkled the walls of the church inside thrice all round and then sprinkled the pavement from the altar to the porch, and sideways from wall to wall, and then to the four quarters of the compass, he prepares some cement at the altar. He then goes to the place where the relics are kept, and starts a solemn procession with the relics round the outside of the church. There a sermon is preached, and two decrees of the council of Trent are read, and the founder's deed of gift or endowment. Then the bishop, anointing the door with chrism, enters the church with the relics and deposits them in the cavity or confession in the altar. Having been enclosed they are censed and covered in, and the cover is anointed. Then follows the censing and wiping of the altar as in the Sarum order.
This use of relics is very ancient and can be traced back to the time of St Ambrose. There was also a custom, now obsolete, of enclosing a portion of the consecrated Eucharist if relics were not obtainable. This was ordered by cap. 2 of the council of Celchyth (Chelsea) in 816. But though ancient the custom of enclosin&? relics was not universal, and where found in English churcif orders, as it frequently is found from the pontifical of Egbert onwards, it is called the "Mos Romanus" as distinguished from the "Mos Anglicanus" (Archaeologia, liv. 416). It is absent from the description of the early Irish form of consecration preserved in the Leabhar Breac, translated and annotated by Rev. T. Olden in the Transactions of the St Paul's Ecclesiolog. Soc. vol. iv. pt. ii. p. 98.
The curious ritual act, technically known as the abecedarium, i.e. the tracing of the alphabet, sometimes in Latin characters, sometimes in Latin and Greek, sometimes, according to Menard, in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, along the limbs of St Andrew's cross on the floor of the church, can be traced back to the 8th century and may be earlier. Its origin and meaning are unknown. Of all explanations we like best the recent one suggested by Rossi and adopted by the bishop of Salisbury. This interprets the St Andrew's cross as the initial Greek letter of Christus, and the whole act as significant of taking possession of the site to be consecrated in the name of Christ, who is the Alpha and Omega, the word of God, combining in himself all letters that lie between them, every element of human speech. The three languages may then have been suggested by the Latin, Greek and Hebrew, in which his title was written on the cross.
The disentangling the Gallican from the Roman elements in the early Western forms of service is a delicate and difficult task, undertaken by Monsignor Louis Duchesne, who shows how the former partook of a funerary and the latter of a baptismal character (Christian Worship (London, 1904), cap. xii.).
The dedication service of the Greek Church is likewise long and elaborate. Relics are to be prepared and guarded on the day previous in some neighbouring sacred building. On the morning following, all ornaments and requisites having been got ready, the laity being excluded, the bishop and clergy vested proceed to fix in its place and consecrate the altar, a long prayer of dedication being said, followed by a litany. The altar is then sprinkled with warm water, then with wine, then anointed with chrism in the form of a cross. The altar, the book of the gospels, and all cloths are then censed, every pillar is crossed with chrism, while various collects are said and psalms recited. One lamp is then filled with oil and lit, and placed on the altar, while clergy bring in other lamps and other ornaments of the church. On the next day - if the service cannot be concluded in one day - the bishop and clergy go to the building where the relics have been kept and guarded. A procession is formed and advances thence with the relics, which are borne by a priest in a holy vessel (discus) on his head; the church having been entered, the relics are placed by him with much ceremonial in the "confession," the recess prepared in or about the altar for their reception, which is then anointed and sealed up. After this the liturgy is celebrated both on the feast of dedication and on seven days afterwards.
There is no authorized form for the dedication of a church in the reformed Church of England. A form was drawn up and approved by both houses of the convocation of Canterbury under Archbishop Tenison in 1712, and an almost identical form was submitted to convocation in 1715, but its consideration was not completed by the Lower House, and neither form ever received royal sanction. The consequence has been that Anglican bishops have fallen back on their undefined jus liturgicum, and have drawn up and promulgated forms for use in their various dioceses, some of them being content to borrow from other dioceses for this purpose. There is a general similarity, with a certain amount of difference in detail, in these various forms. In the diocese of London the bishop, attended by clergy and churchwardens, receives at the west door, outside, a petition for consecration; the procession then moves round the whole church outside, while certain psalms are chanted. On again reaching the west door the bishop knocks thrice for admission, and the door being opened the procession advances to the east end of the church.
He there lays the keys on the table "which is to be hallowed." The Veni Creator is then sung kneeling, followed by the litany with special suffrages. The bishop then proceeds to various parts of the church and blesses the font, the chancel, with special references to confirmation and holy matrimony, the lectern, the pulpit, the clergy stalls, the choir seats, the holy table. The deed of consecration is then read and signed, and the celebration of Holy Communion follows with special collects, epistle and gospel.
The Church of Ireland and the episcopal Church of Scotland are likewise without any completely authorized form of dedication, and their archbishops or bishops have at various times issued forms of service on their own authority. (F. E. W.)
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Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Dedication'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/bri/d/dedication.html. 1910.