St Helens Church, High Street, Wheathampstead, St Albans, AL4 8AA. Worship Times: 10am every Sunday

Virtual Guide: The Altar

July 2023: This page contains placeholder text for a proof of concept trial. We intend to refine this information at a later date.

The Altar is the focus for the offering of worship. 

There are three altars in the church.

Communion vessels

The High Altar at the highest, sunrise, east end of the church leads the attention on and up to God who comes to us from the Beyond. It is marked off by the communion rail, where those who have been confirmed in the Christian faith receive Bread and Wine in the Service of Holy Communion (Eucharist). During the Eucharist, the Priest consecrates these elements using the words of Jesus at his Last Supper, and they become for us his body and his blood, renewing in us God’s strength and life.

The High Altar is a wooden table fitted with different coloured frontals. The coverings are ceremonially removed on the evening of Maundy Thursday each year, (the day of the Last Supper where Jesus gave his command, his mandate, to ‘Love one another’), and so leave nothing but the bare table for the day of Christ’s death, Good Friday – called good because it was then that the Loving Goodness, the nature of God himself, was proved to the limit in Christ’s crucifixion. The great Christian symbol of the Cross is the continual reminder of the loving goodness of God.

The second Altar, a dark wooden table, is normally placed in the central crossing and is covered with a “fair linen cloth” for the main Communion Service. Here it draws the attention to God who is already within the congregation of those who gather around in his name.

Here is offered the harvest of the field and the fruit of the vine, the bread and the wine which are the gifts of God and the work of human hands, and which, at the communion rail, are received as the sacramental food and drink given back by God for spiritual refreshment.

The third Altar makes use of a shelf in the Lady Chapel of the South transept, and being almost hidden is a reminder that Jesus reassured us that, unlike the Twelve Men necessary for Jewish public worship, where only two or three people are gathered in His name, there is God’s presence in the midst of them.

The Central Altar is Jacobean (c.1640) and came from Lamer House .

The Lady Chapel is so named in honour of Our Lord’s mother, Mary. It is also known as the Brocket chapel as it contains the tomb of Sir John and Margaret Brocket whose life sized alabaster figures lie on top of the tomb.

The visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus

The window over the altar shows Mary presenting Jesus, the two-year-old boy, to the wise men and the main window depicts episodes in the story of Joseph, although his famous coat is nowhere to be seen.