An "antependium" (Latin: "to hang before"; pl: "antependia"), more commonly known as a "hanging", or, when speaking specifically of the hanging for the altar, an "altar frontal", is a decorative piece of material that can adorn a Christian altar, lectern, pulpit, or table (as opposed to the vestments worn by the minister or priest). Specifically, an antependium hangs down in front of whatever it covers, and must be distinguished from the [ altar linens] which are used in the service of the Eucharist, and an altar cloth which covers the top of the altar table ("mensa").

Types of antipendia

An altar frontal may come down only a few inches from the top of the altar table (a "frontlet") — especially if the front of the altar is elaborately carved or painted—or it may reach all the way to the floor (the "frontal", properly so called). It will usually cover the entire width of the altar. A "Jacobean frontal" will completely cover the entire altar, reaching down to the floor on all four sides.


An "antependium" is normally of the same color and fabric as the vestments worn by the clergy. The fabric may vary from very simple material such as cotton or wool, to exquisitely wrought damasks and fine watermarked silk, velvet, or satin. Decoration is commonly by means of decorative bands of material (orphreys), embroidery (sometimes in gold or silver thread, or making use of pearls and semi-precious stones) or appliqués, fringes and tassels, all of a complementary color to the fabric. The most frequent emblem used on both vestments and hangings is the cross. The "antependium" is normally lined in a matching color, often of satin.

The colors used tend to be fixed by the liturgical tradition of the denomination. Most Western Christian churches that observe a developed liturgical tradition use white, gold, red, green, violet, and black, each used only on specified occasions. Rose colour may be employed for certain Sundays during Lent and Advent. Blue is sometimes prescribed for feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary (see liturgical colors). Among Eastern Christians, there tend to be two types of vestments used: somber (dark) ones and festal (bright) ones. Beyond that, no specific colors are officially required. Among some groups, such as the Russian Orthodox Church, a pattern of fixed colors has developed, somewhat similar to that used in the West, although not strictly required.

Other usages

"Antipendium" can also be used to describe front of the altar itself, especially if it is elaborately carved or gilded. The famous Pala d'Oro in St. Mark's Basilica in Venice originated as an "antependium", although it is used as a "reredos" now.

ee also

*Altar cloth
*Liturgical colours

External links

* [ Altar Frontal] article from the Catholic Encyclopedia
* [ altar with red frontal]
* [ Jacobean Frontal] St. John's Church, Edinburgh, Scotland

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