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Altar Steps

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In the beginning altars were not erected on steps. Those in the catacombs were constructed on the pavement, and in churches they were usually erected over the confession, or spot where the remains of martyrs were deposited. In the fourth century the altar was supported by one step above the floor of the sanctuary. At present the number of steps leading up to the high altar is for symbolical reasons uneven; usually three, five, or seven, including the upper platform ( predella ). These steps are to pass around the altar on three sides. They may be of wood, stone, or bricks, but St. Charles (Instructions on Ecclesiastical Building, xi, no. 2) would have the two or four lower steps of stone or bricks, whilst he prescribes that the predella, on which the celebrant stands, should be made of wood. The steps should be about one foot in breadth. The predella should extend along the front of the altar with a breadth of about three feet six inches, and at the sides of the altar about one foot. The height of each step ought to be about six inches. Side altars must have at least one step.

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