Canopy or Throne of the Altar
"Caeremoniale Episcoporum" (I, xii, 13), treating of the ornaments of
the altar, says that a canopy (baldachinum) should be suspended over
the altar. It should be square in form, sufficiently large to cover the
altar and the predella on which the celebrant stands, and if it can
easily be done, the colour of the material, silk velvet or other cloth,
with which it is covered, should vary with the colour of the ornaments
of the altar. It is either suspended from the ceiling by a movable
chain, so that it may be lowered or raised when necessary, or it may be
attached to the wall, or to the reredos at the back of the altar. It
may also be a stationary structure, and this is usually the case in
large churches, and then it is made of marble, stone, metal, or wood
beautifully carved and overlaid with gold or silver, in the form of a
cupola erected on four pillars. In liturgy it is called the ciborium.
The canopy or ciborium is, according to the decision of the Cong. Sac.
Rit., to be erected over the altar of the Blessed Sacrament (23 May,
1846), and over the other altars of the church (27 April, 1697), but as
contrary custom has so far prevailed that even in Rome it is usually
erected only over the high altar, and the altar of the Blessed
Sacrament. The purpose of this canopy is to protect the altar from dust
or other matter falling upon it from the ceiling, which, being usually
very high, cannot be conveniently or easily cleaned. On solemn
festivals, or at special solemnities, a temporary canopy is sometimes
placed over an altar in or outside the church. The framework on which
such a canopy is erected is called the "altar-herse", a word probably
derived from hearse, a frame covered with cloth, and formerly set up
over a corpse in funeral solemnities.
 Written by A.J. Schulte. Transcribed by Michael C. Tinkler -- image scanned by Wm Stuart French, Jr..
Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Published 1907. New York: Robert
Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D.,
Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York