Altar of the Assumption in St. Paul’s Outside the Wall

The Assumption Altar, in St. Paul’s Outside the Wall, is decorated in a beautiful blue-green stone called malachite.  Malachite is a precious and rare stone.  For the Altar of the Assumption,  the Czar of Russia donated malachite stone to St. Paul’s Basilica.

Usually an altar was just a solid rock with a mensa or tabletop, but this altar is a little strange.  It is ornately decorated and elevated on the backs of lions with two angels standing beside it.  Angels and lions are nice and all, but they have a deeper purpose in this construction.

In the old testament, the arc of the covenant had angels on top of it, protecting it.  Now, in this reproduction of the arc as an altar, the angels have stepped away and are standing next to the altar.  They no longer have to protect it because the seat or throne of wisdom has been taken.  Jesus Christ, in the transubstantiation of the Mass, takes his place on the throne of wisdom.  And Mary, who owns the title Seat of Wisdom, receives him.

In the Pieta, Our Lady is letting him go as he falls onto the altar.  Here, Our Mother is receiving him as the Seat of Wisdom, which is the altar.