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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
a painting placed over the altar. The practice was unknown to -Christians during the first three centuries, but it gradually crept in, particularly in the 4th century. In the Council of Eliberis in Spain, A.D. 305, it was decreed that pictures ought not to be in churches, lest that which is painted on the. walls be worshipped and adored. In Romish churches, particularly in Roman Catholic countries, paintings of Scripture scenes and incidents by the most eminent artists are used as altar-pieces. The same custom has crept into some Protestant churches. In the Church of England, for instance, it is no uncommon thing to see paintings hung above the altar, although they are not to be found in other parts of the church. The English Reformers were violently opposed to the practice, and during the reign of Elizabeth a royal proclamation was issued prohibiting the use of either paintings or images in churches. The practice had become very general at the time of the Reformation, but was then checked by the Protestant movement. Even at this hour, however, Romish churches, and many Anglican churches, attach great importance to the altar-piece, not so much as an ornament, but as an encouragement to the practice of the invocation of saints. (See IMAGES); (See INVOCATION).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Altar-Piece'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/a/altar-piece.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.