Saturday, 18 November 2006

Of Baldock and Baghdad

On Christmas night, we celebrate the hundreth anniversary of the unveiling of the Baladacchino - the great marble canopy that stands above the High Altar. A Baldacchino was originally a tent of fabric covering an altar or throne: although medieval in origin, the notion must also hark back to the Tent that covered the Ark of the Covenant in Old Testament times.

In constructing our great Baldacchino, Francis Bentley was influenced by the basilica of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan. The canopy is supported by eight columns of yellow marble from Verona, and the magnificent structure (Bentley thought it the best thing in the Cathedral) was formally unveiled at Midnight Mass 1906.

As I was pondering on ways to mark this event, I looked for the origin of the exotic term 'baldacchino', and found that it was the medieval Italian form of 'Baghdad' - the source of the silk that was employed in such canopies. As I triumphantly e-mailed this information to other members of staff, Fr Christopher e-mailed me back with an even more fascinating morsel, which I quote:
"Re your historical footnote. The Knights Templar wanted to establish a 'Baghdad' in England and named one of their properties in Hertfordshire after that city, hence we have 'Baldock'."

I wonder whether the town elders of Baldock have considered twinning ...

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