Old alters

Can anyone tell me what happens to the alters that are taken from churches when they move or are closed? I assume they try to reuse them somewhere?


As far as I know some are waiting their better fate in the basement of the diocesan Cathedrals, some are in their place but covered some new structures, and some were simply destroyed. Only the conservation of the altar stones with the relic of a saint was required.

There are as many different answers to that question as there are altars.

Sometimes, the altars are so permanent, they just stay in the closed church and rot along with it. Sometimes they are acquired by other churches, sometimes by museums, and sometimes by antique dealers. Sadly, sometimes you come across them in pubs and taverns. Some are purchased by nostalgic Catholics (with money to burn, apparently)who install them in their garages, or in their gardens, or in their home chapels.

A conscientious diocese will insist that an altar from a closed church, if it is not put to reverent use, be destroyed so that there is no possibility of it coming to profane or sacrilegious use. That is the policy of my own diocese, in which many urban churches have had to be closed. Either they go to other Catholic churches or institutions, or they get sent to the grinder.

A college at which I used to work, which was a secular college, but had been a Catholic teacher training college, used the former chapel as the examination hall and the altar was used as a desk for the invigilators.

Sometimes they leave them in the church and celebrate Mass on a table in front of it.

Boggles the mind.

I know of a church in north east Washington that had its old hand-built Altar torn out one evening and hauled off to the local garbage dump where it was burned. This happened in 1970. I thought the parish was going to lynch the priest. But it was smoothed over with some words from the Bishop (who was very liberal).

I have since become aware that many parishoners will tolerate most anything done to the liturgy but don’t mess with their church (building).

I have never understood this line of reasoning.

Quite often, old altArs were altEred to make other things, such as freestanding altars or sanctuary furniture. In my parish, the former high altar was shortened and given rear panels to become the current walk-around altar.

Thanks for this, it’s a pet peeve of mine to see “altar” spelled with a “e” (or for that matter, “hangar” spelled with an “e”… as I’m an aviation buff as well). But don’t know how to point it out without sounding uncharitable.

Our diocese cut up our cathedral’s altar and the stone.

In roughly the same time frame our parish’s old high altar was torn out and burned on the homecoming bonfire at our local Catholic high school. This high school closed down a few years later.

A great many of the old altars that were attached to the wall (ie, not free-standing) were retained in their churches and had the tabernacle placed in them, so they continued to be used. I think the move to free-standing altars was an improvement, myself, as long as they don’t look like dining room tables, but the ripping out of the old altars was a shame.

well put and so true

Not all of the freestanding altars look like tables, so the above is not necessarily true. Our parish altar (freestanding) is a massive piece of marble that had to be intalled in the church by crane before the roof could be put on.

Altars do not have to look the same and lot of the old ones looked like ornate side-boards or buffets.

Ebay. I’m not kidding. There is a company that deals with used church items and some buy and sell on ebay. I know this because that is where our church got its new altar.

Any rite of “deconsecration” required here? I assume not. So much vandalism done to these churches over the years in the "spirit of Vatican II’ I suppose. Ever wonder what happend to those ornate high pulpits, communion rails, confessionals, etc. With the continued closing of churches, I’ve come across a lot of ecclesiastical pieces, some being Eucharistic in nature thrown into to boxes and auctioned off to the highest bidder. Something very wrong here IMO.

Consecrated altar…



*Dies irae! dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla.

Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando Iudex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discusurus!*

Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulcra regionum
Coget omnes ante thronum.

Mors stupebit et natura
Cum resurget creatura
Iudicanti responsura.

Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus iudicetur.

Iudex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet, apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.


Please translate for those of us who only know a few words in latin.

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