Project Canterbury

Altar Linen: Its Care and Use.

By the Rev. Warren Richards.

Preface by the Rev. Paul Elwin Millard, C.R.

Drawings by D. G. Kirkman.

London: The Faith Press, 1932.


THE purpose of this booklet is so evident that it is difficult to see the need of anything in the nature of a preface or introduction. But as I am told otherwise, I gladly take the opportunity of commending this work, which will, I believe, meet a very real need.

This little book describes what are the ideal requisites for the celebration of the Holy Mysteries in a seemly and decent manner. (And surely no one ought to be content with any standard lower than the ideal.) The admirable drawings illustrate the text with such clearness that the meanest intelligence can understand it. It is a book which should be in the hands of all who have the care of altars, be they Priests or Sacristans, Sisters or Deaconesses, or anyone else, and these will, I hope, read and study it carefully, and strive to carry out in detail all the recommendations which are here suggested.

Maundy Thursday, 1932.


THIS leaflet is intended chiefly for those who have the care of Altar Linen. Its object is to mention each article of linen used at an ordinary Celebration of the Holy Communion, stating its size, decoration, and particulars with regard to washing, starching and ironing. Other articles used at the altar are only mentioned when necessary to give clearness to the description.

A great deal of variety must be expected in different churches; but in broad outlines the particulars given here may act as a guide to those who feel the need of a little book to help them, or to put into the hands of others.

Any lay people who wish to know exactly how the priest handles the linen during the service should ask their parish priest, who would willingly tell them; but this does not in the ordinary way seem a matter of concern to lay people. The sympathies of this book are with those who have to make, wash and iron the linen, so that their valuable part in the Service of the Altar may be done "decently and in order."


Used for drying the holy vessels during the Celebration.

Description. A cloth of fine linen, or absorbent non-fluffy linen material, such as Bird's Eye Diaper.

Size. About 12 or 14 inches square, with fine hem. It may have a small cross embroidered in white thread in one comer.

Laundry. Ironed without starch: folded and creased in three only.

When preparing the holy vessels for the priest to take to the altar, he places the purificator over the mouth of the chalice, as shown in Fig. I. The paten (with priest's wafer) is placed on top of the purificator. Fig. 2.


Used for covering the chalice during the service.

Description. A stiff, fine white linen-covered square, of size 6 inches, or large enough to cover the paten. It consists of an outer case of linen (marked (i) in Fig. 3), containing square folds of linen stuck together and made very stiff with starch (or a square of white cardboard), to keep the case stiff and flat. The top side of the case may be decorated with a linen-thread cross; and on the under side is sewn a piece of fine white linen (marked (2) in Fig. 3), stitched on lightly at the comers. This is to be detached and burned if soiled even slightly, and a new piece attached. The linen-thread embroidery on the top face of the pall should be of such a design as to be alike which ever way it faces.

At the entry the pall is placed on the paten covering the priest's wafer. See Fig. 4.

Laundry. The ornamental cover of the outer case should be removed and washed when soiled, and the under piece of linen burned and renewed. The outer case should be "ironed up wet" (not dried and damped), without starch.


Used for covering the compacted chalice, paten and pall, before and after actual use for the Consecration.

Description. An ornamental silk veil, of the colour of the season, lined with silk or other similar good material. It is placed over the compacted vessels, with one side turned up and laid back on top with the lining showing, as in Fig. 5, to allow the priest's hands to reach the chalice.

Size. About 21 or 22 inches square. It may be ornamented with a cross in gold or silk thread, in the centre of one side near the edge. In Fig. 5 the coloured silk is indicated by the arrow (I) and the inside lining by arrow (2).

Laundry. The silk veil should be sent to the dry cleaners if necessary.


Used to contain and carry the corporal when not actually spread on the altar.

Description. A case made of two squares of stiff cardboard, covered on the outside faces with silk to match the veil, and lined on the inside with white linen, very carefully kept clean. The two squares, of size about 9 inches, are hinged with stitches at one edge only, and not made with pocket sides, so that the burse can be opened out flat if required. One outside face of the burse may be decorated with a gold or silk thread cross in the centre, and other suitable decoration in keeping with the silk veil, which the burse matches. See Fig. 6. Arrow (I) indicates the outside silk, arrow (2) the linen lining, arrow (3) the stitch hinge.

Laundry. The white linen lining should be removed and renewed when soiled. The silk should be sent to the dry cleaners.


Used spread on top of the middle of the altar, reaching to—but not overhanging—the front edge. The Consecration of the Elements takes place on the Corporal.

Description. A large fine linen cloth, with about a one inch hem. It may be ornamented with a single, very small linen-thread cross (not raised), close to the hem in the position shewn in Fig. 7, indicating the side which lies nearest to the Celebrant. This cross also helps to indicate the correct way of folding (see below).

Size. About 20 or 22 inches square.

Laundry. The Corporal is starched moderately stiff, and VERY carefully and cleanly ironed. It is folded in nine, i.e. in three and three again, as follows (see Fig. 8): (i.) Fold the Corporal into three, by first turning the front portion (bearing the cross) over the middle, then bringing the further portion forward to lie on top. (ii.) The cloth is again folded in three, making a square, first folding the left hand side over the middle, and then turning the right hand side over to lie on top. This method of folding ensures that the best face, which is to lie uppermost when spread on the altar, is folded inside, so that it cannot become soiled before or after actual use at the altar.

The Corporal is kept between the covers of the Burse when not in use. When compacting the vessels the Burse is placed last, on top of the silk veil.


Used for drying the priest's fingers, after he has washed them before the Consecration. When not in use, it is kept with the lavabo dish and jug in the credence cupboard.

Description. The lavabo towel is made of linen, or other smooth, white absorbent material. Diaper is very good.

Size. About 24 inches long and 12 inches wide.

It is hemmed at both ends, and may have a white thread cross, as shown in Fig. 9.

Laundry. No starch is used, and it should be ironed, folded in three lengthways, and creased, with the cross showing, as in Fig. 10.


The top of the credence cupboard may be covered first with a piece of coloured rep, or billiard cloth, cut to the size of the top. Next is placed a white fine linen cloth, laid over so as to hang down a few inches at the ends, and slightly over the front and the back.

All this is covered, when not in use, by a coarse, coloured linen dust-cover, large enough to hang over and cover the linen. See Fig. 11. A credence cupboard, instead of a table or bracket, is highly recommended, as the missal, cruets, wafer-box and lavabo apparatus may be kept in it conveniently near the altar.

Laundry. The fine linen cloth, and the coarse linen dustcover, should be "ironed up wet" (not dried and damped), without starch. They should not be creased.


In addition to the frontal of silk, which hangs on hooks on the front face of the altar, there are four cloths which belong to the top. They will be described in the order in which they are placed, as shown in Fig. 12. The dust cover is described separately.

(1) Waxed Cloth. This is a sheet of specially prepared cloth, of the size of the altar top. One of the objects of its use is to prevent condensation moisture from damping the linen cloths. It is laid directly on the stone or wooden top of the altar. It cannot be washed. It can be obtained by sending the exact measurement of the altar to to any of the church furnishing shops.

(2) Frontlet Cloth. This is a thick linen cloth, the size of the altar top. To it is stitched the silk ornamental frontlet (about 7 inches deep), which hangs over the front to hide the rod on which the frontal hangs.

Laundry. The linen must be unstitched from the frontlet, and ironed without starch.

(3) Plain Linen Cloth. This is a plain fine linen cloth, of the size of the altar top. Laundry. This cloth should be lightly starched, and carefully ironed. It should on no account be creased, either when ironing, or through careless carrying.

(4) Fair Linen Cloth. This is a long cloth of very fine linen. It is of the width of the Altar, and long enough to reach to within a few inches of the ground each side. It may have white thread crosses to mark the centre and comers of the Altar, as shown in Fig. 12. At the ends it may be omamented with drawn thread work, or a linen fringe, or deeply hemmed, as desired.

Laundry. The fair linen cloth should be "ironed up wet" (not dried and damped), without starch, and most carefully ironed so as to be spotless and without crease. It can best be preserved after ironing by carrying it on a roller, on which it is rolled up as it is being ironed. No altar cloths should EVER be creased by folding.


A suitable material is coarse coloured linen, the same as the credence cover.

The arrangement shown in Fig. 13 is very convenient, and consists of a narrow runner [arrow (i)], about 8 or 9 inches wide, long enough to hang down each end. On this stand the crucifix and candles, and it need not be removed at all, except for washing purposes. This runner will catch any wax which may fall from the candles.

The large movable cover [arrow (2)] should be wide enough to cover the remainder of the altar top, and long enough to hang over the ends, and cover the fair linen cloth to the bottom at each end. Arrow (3) shows the fair linen cloth.

Laundry. The altar dust cover and the runner should be "ironed up wet" (not dried and damped), without starch; they should not be creased.

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