In 2011 St. Luke’s was given four complete sets of altar linens. They were specially made to our own designs by J. Whippell & Company Limited in Exeter, England. The white and blue sets were given in memory of Katharine Ladd Fales. The red and green sets were given by generous contributions from Bob & Cathy Henry and Carol & Tom Ryan, as well as by many parish families who have contributed to the Memorial Fund over the years.
Together with the existing purple set, St. Luke’s now possesses altar linens for all the liturgical seasons, as denoted by their colors. The Christian year begins with Advent (royal blue for the coming of a King), followed by Christmas (white for purity, light, innocence and joy) and Epiphany (green, the color of new life and hope). Then comes the somber season of Lent – in purple – and the beginning of the Passion at Palm Sunday (in blood red), before we return to triumphal white for Easter. At the end of the Easter season comes the fire of Pentecost (red again) and the long season of Sundays after Pentecost (all in green), right up to the last Sunday of the Christian year, at the end of November, when we go to white once more for the Feast of Christ the King.
Each new set consists of a full-length altar frontal, a chasuble (which the priest will often wear when celebrating the Eucharist), a veil and burse (to cover the holy vessels on the altar), two priest’s stoles and one for a deacon, and lectern falls (or Bible markers).
The frontals are made from cotton damask material, but each has its own particular pattern – the red is called “Glastonbury”, the white “Agnus Dei”, the blue “St. Margaret”, and the green “Winchester” – and each frontal has a braid fringe, most often in gold.
The symbols on the frontals and vestments were chosen partly to reflect the season, partly to reflect St. Luke’s. So both the white and green sets reproduce the Chi Rho symbol that is carved into the church’s original marble altar (now largely hidden by the freestanding altar in use today).
Chi and Rho are the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ – they were first used as a Christian symbol by the Emperor Constantine when he converted to Christianity in 312 AD and made Christianity, for the first time, a legal religion in the Empire (which meant almost all of Europe and parts of Asia Minor). On either side of the Chi (the X) are the symbols of Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
The red frontal has a single symbol – a Latin cross, in gold, chosen because it closely resembles the St. Luke’s cross on the altar, which is also reproduced on our banner. The blue frontal and chasuble have no dominant symbol: instead, they have orphreys (or columns) of gold embroidery in which the symbol of a crown is clearly visible – a crown for the King that is to be born.
The new linens were first used on Palm Sunday, 2011, and were formally dedicated a few weeks later at Pentecost.