Beautiful, Traditional Fair Linen for Altar

I finally finished a project that has taken me more than a year: the new altar cloth for the Carmelite Monastery.  It will be shipped out and delivered in time for the dedication of their newly renovated chapel which will take place on February 3.

The lace is filet crochet of size 100 cotton thread, and the cloth the finest linen I could find, from Elizabeth Morgan.  All the stitching – except for the mitered corners – was done by hand, inclusive of the hemstitching which involved pulling threads, and then binding the exposed ones into groups of seven all across the length of nearly 12 feet and the two sides of the width which together were over 6 feet.  That was over 18 feet of hemstitching! The traditional five crosses are embroidered on the four corners and in the center.

I can’t fully express the joy and satisfaction I have experienced (and yes, a little frustration at times) in doing this work for God.  What added greatly to my joy was that Providentially, the Holy Ghost led me to a prayer in my Raccolta which I had no idea existed.  I was looking for something else when I discovered that someone who sews or repairs altar linens without monetary compensation can gain indulgences by lifting up her heart to God and praying thus: “Jesu, via, veritas et vita, misere nobis.”  How often I prayed that prayer during my work!  As St. Therese used to say, “How sweet it is to work for Jesus!”

Before I show some pictures of the altar cloth, I add the following bit of info from the New Advent “Catholic Encyclopedia”:

“The use of altar-cloths goes back to the early centuries of the Church. St. Optatus of Mileve says that in the fourth century every Christian knew that during the celebration of the Mysteries the altar is covered with a cloth (bk. VI). Later it became a law, which, according to Gavantus, was promulgated by Boniface III in the seventh century……..

“Symbolically the altar-cloths signify the members of Christ, that is, God’s faithful, by whom the Lord is encompassed (Pontificale Rom., De ordinat. subdiaconi); or the linens in which the body of Christ was wrapped, when it was laid in the sepulchre; or the purity and the devotion of the faithful: “For the fine linen are the justifications of saints” (Revelation 19:8).”

As a further explanation, I might add that according to William Durand, French Bishop of Mende  (1230 – 1296), the altar cloth represents the faithful as being vestments which cover and adorn Christ who is represented by the altar, because like flax which is macerated before it is useful as white linen, the faithful, too, must pass through diverse tribulations and carry their crosses in order to be united with Him for eternity.

By the way, I discovered that part of Durand’s works has been translated and is readily available for purchaseOn the Clergy and Their Vestments is described as being “one of the most influential works on the medieval understanding of the worship ceremonies of the Latin Church.”


altar cloth_monasterySince we do not have a high altar in our house, for the photo shoot I had to make use of our piano for demonstration purposes! Nice, no? Look, you can even see at what time I took this picture!

altarcloth_monastery2JPGHere is one more showing the cascading drape down the side.  Beautiful!

It sure beats the polyester, “crafty” look of the more modern and trendy cloths which are machine fabricated in one day and still cost a pretty penny.

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6 Responses to Beautiful, Traditional Fair Linen for Altar

  1. Fiat says:

    This reply is addressed to C.T. who inquired about this altar cloth. I could not respond personally because you did not leave contact info. I hope you see my reply here.

    To answer your questions:
    1.) Altars are of various sizes.
    2.) If someone were to make an altar cloth themselves, like the one shown, they would spend between $230-250 for just materials.
    3.) If the altar cloth were to be custom-ordered from a supplier who employs workers to crochet the lace, the cost would probably reach $1,000.

    God bless!

  2. Fiat says:

    God bless you, Sr. Mary Catharine!

    Well, if you have a 9 ft. altar, it might just take you until ’19 :-) but you will gain much merit. I am just kidding about taking that long to finish, but I have to confess that I started a tablecloth probably about 30 years ago, and it is still not done! I kind of lost interest in it because now I prefer to do liturgical lace.

    I did take a look at your webpage. You have a LOVELY monastery! And your chapel also is beautiful. I can almost picture a gorgeous, flowing, handmade lace linen cloth on top of that altar. Of course, when you finish, you will have to show us the finished product.

    I do hope someday you will exclusively have the TLM. I simply must add your monastery to my prayer list. Would you in your turn pray for the cloistered Carmelites – that they return to their rite? I used to want to be a third order Dominican, then a Carmelite. I love both of those ancient orders. I really believe that when so many “fold”, the restored Carmelites and Dominicans will continue until the end of time.

    I will mail you what I have with regard to patterns for liturgical lace.

    In their most Sacred Hearts,

  3. Sr. Mary Catharine says:

    Thank you! These are lovely. Much nicer than the pattern one can find here in the US. Our 100th anniversary is in 2019 so I have thought to do something special for then but I hope it wouldn’t take me THAT LONG!

    We have a beautiful chapel which you can see on our website: We don’t have the EF but perhaps someday we’ll have the Dominican Rite. It’s up to our friars who are just starting to learn it…but then we’ll have to learn it, too, since all but a few of us are young sisters with no experience of the Dominican Rite.

    I would be grateful for any patterns you would be willing to share with me.

    God bless you!
    Sr. Mary Catharine, OP

  4. Fiat says:


    Here is a link to the place from which I have ordered, though you would have to communicate in Spanish. The link will bring you to their page for “edgings”. With a little ingenuity, you could alter the pattern to add Catholic symbols.

    Here is their page for Religious edgings:

    I have both of the books you will see on that page.

    If I can be of help, I would be happy to assist you to produce that beautiful altar cloth you desire.

  5. Fiat says:

    Sr. Mary Catherine,

    God be praised in all His attributes! What will His beauty be like when we come face to face?!!

    If you want, I can e-mail some of the patterns I have. The one which you see on this blog, I created from an idea I saw in a book. I have other patterns from books I purchased by mail from Spain. I will try to find the contact info.

    God bless!

  6. Sr. Mary Catharine says:

    I have wanted to make the edging for an altar cloth for our chapel. This is beautiful! Where can I get these patterns? Our altar is very big! 9 feet long and 4 feet wide. I know that the sisters will treasure this beautiful work for God’s glory!

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