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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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are used in some Christian churches, e.g. in those of the Romish communion, in the ministration of the Lord's Supper, and the custom is claimed to be of patristic or even apostolic origin. There is certainly evidence that linen and silk cloths were used as far back as the 6th century to cover the eucharistic elements previous to consecration and administration. Oftentimes their "altar napkins," as they were usually called, were richly adorned, and very costly. There is notice of such practice in the pontificate of Vitalienus, in the 7th century. The emperor Constantius, when visiting at Rome the church of St. Peter, presented a piece of goldembroidered altar napkin: "Super altare pallium auro textile" (In Vitatiam, 135, 15). In the 8th century pope Zacharias presented to the same altar a napkin of the same make, enriched furthermore by precious jewels, and ornamented with a representation of Christ's nativity: "Fecit vestem super altare beati Petri ex auro textam, habentem nativitatem Domini Dei et Salvatoris Jesu Christi, ornavitque ear gemmis pretiosis" (Anast. In Zach. 219, 5). The expressions "in altari," "super altare," to designate such altar-cloths, make it plain that they were not used like altar- cloths in our day, but were napkins used as we see linen used in the communion service in the churches of today. Priers thinks that these cloths served the double purpose of altar-cloths and napkins, covering both altar and the elements consecrated thereon. See Martigny, Dict. des Antiquites Chretiennes, page 427 sq.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Napkins'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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