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Formerly, in most basilicas, cathedrals, and large churches a large structure in the form of a cupola or dome resting on four columns was erected over the high altar, which was called the ciborium . Between the columns ran metal rods, holding rings to which were fastened curtains which according to the rubrics of the individual churches, were drawn around the altar at certain parts of Mass. These curtains were styled tetravela altaris and were made of linen, silk, gold cloth, and other precious stuffs. In the lives of many of the Roman pontiffs ( Gregory IV, Leo IV, Nicholas I ) we read that they made presents of such curtains to the churches of Rome. When the ciboria over the altar fell into disuse a curtain was suspended at the back of the altar. called a dossel, or dorsal, and two others, one at each side of it. They were hung to rods fastened in the wall or reredos, or rested on four pillars erected at each end of the altar. The pillars were surmounted by angels holding candelabra, in which candles were burnt on solemn occasions. Probably the sanctuary candelabra of today may trace their origin to these.


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