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Updated:  Aug 12, 2013
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Support for a book, reading desk, or bookstand

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Errata* for Lectern:

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.

Lectern (LECTURN, LETTURN, LETTERN, from legere, to read), support for a book, reading desk, or bookstand, a solid and permanent structure upon which the Sacred Books, which were generally large and heavy, were placed when used by the ministers of the altar in liturgical functions. In early days only one such structure was employed; later, two were erected, one at the northern wall of the choir, and another on the opposite side. From the former the sermon was delivered by the priest, and also by the bishop, unless he spoke from his cathedra; here decrees of synods were promulgated, censures and excommunications pronounced, the diptychs read, the Gospel chanted by the deacon, and all those parts of the liturgy were sung which belonged to the deacon's office. The other, somewhat longer but not so high, was divided into two compartments or stories—the higher, facing the altar, was used by the subdeacon when reading the Epistle; in the other, facing the nave the other lessons were read. A third lectern was used in some churches for the sermon. Some of these were built of marble, others of wood, highly adorned with silver and gold, enamelled, and set with precious stones, covered with bronze plates and carvings in ivory. Besides chose mentioned under Ambo. we find among the treasures of the Abbey of Saint-Riquier "lectoria tria ex marmore, argento et auro fabricata" (P.L., CLXXIV, 1257). One in the court of the church of St. Pantalaemon in Thessalonica is held to be the oldest. On its lower part is found in relief the Madonna and Child, seated on a throne and surrounded by shepherds and the three Magi, and on the superstructure are symbolic representations. The upper part of the lectern in S. Apollinare Nuovo at Ravenna is old and fairly complete. Another, well preserved and richly decorated, a donation of Henry II, is at Aachen. Movable lecterns were also made of wood, bronze, or polished brass. A bronze lectern inlaid with ivory, made about the middle of the twelfth century by Suger, Abbot of St. Denis, was in the shape of an eagle whose outspread wings held the book. Eagle-shaped lecterns were also numerous in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in England. Samples, but not going back later than the fifteenth century, are found at Aachen, Dusseldorf, St. Severin's at Cologne, etc. A lectern of neatly wrought iron, in the shape of an X, which can be folded, is in the Musee Cluny at Paris. The Carthusians of Dijon had a lectern which was a large column of copper, in renaissance style, supporting a phoenix surrounded by the four animals of the Prophet Ezechiel. In some the figure of a deacon holds the book.

The Synods of Munster (1279), Liege (1287), and Cambrai (1300) prescribed that the Missal, enveloped in a linen cloth, should be laid on the altar. Towards the end of the thirteenth century a cushion came into use. The oldest notice of a stand for the Missal is found in an inventory of the cathedral of Angers of the year 1297 (Zeitschrift fur christliche Kunst, X. 175). All such lecterns were covered on festivals with rich cloths of silver and gold. At the present day lecterns are in use as Missal-stands and for the reading of the prophecies on Holy Saturday and Pentecost Saturday, for the chanting of the Passion, the singing of the "Exultet", and the reading of the lessons in choirs.


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