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An antependium (Latin: "to hang before"; pl: antependia), more commonly known as a hanging, or, when speaking specifically of the hanging for the altar, an altar frontal, is a decorative piece of material that can adorn a Christian altar, lectern, pulpit, or table (as opposed to the vestments worn by the minister or priest). Specifically, an antependium hangs down in front of whatever it covers, and is to be distinguished from the altar linens  which are used in the service of the Eucharist, and an altar cloth which covers the top of the altar table (mensa).
Types of antipendia
When the front of an altar is elaborately carved or painted, the altar frontal normally reaches down only a few inches from the top of the altar table; this is called a 'frontlet'. In other cases it may reach to the floor (the "frontal", properly so called). In both situations, it will usually cover the entire width of the altar. A "Jacobean frontal" will cover the entire altar, reaching down to the floor on all four sides.
An antependium is normally of the same colour and fabric as the vestments worn by the clergy. The fabric may vary from very simple material such as cotton or wool, to exquisitely wrought damasks, fine watermarked silk, velvet, or satin. Embellishment is commonly by means of decorative bands of material called orphreys, embroidery (sometimes in gold or silver thread, or making use of pearls and semi-precious stones) or appliqués, fringes and tassels, all of a complementary colour to the fabric. The most frequently used symbol on both vestments and hangings is the cross. The antependium is normally lined in satin, using a matching hue.
The colours used tend to be fixed by the liturgical tradition of each denomination. Most Western Christian churches that observe a developed liturgical tradition use white, gold, red, green, violet and black, with each being used on specified occasions. A rose colour may be employed for the fourth Sunday (Laetare Sunday)in Lent and Gaudete Sunday in Advent. In Anglican circles, blue is sometimes prescribed for feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary (see liturgical colours) although it is also used, unofficially, in some areas of the Catholic Church. Among Eastern Christians, there tends to be two types of vestments: somber (dark) ones and festal (bright) ones. Beyond that, no specific colours are officially required. Among groups such as the Russian Orthodox Church, a pattern of fixed colours has developed, somewhat similar to that used in the West, although they are not, strictly speaking, required.
Antipendium can also be used to describe front of the altar itself, especially if it is elaborately carved or gilded. The famous Pala d'Oro in St. Mark's Basilica in Venice originated as an antependium, although it is used as a reredos now.
- Altar Frontal article from the Catholic Encyclopedia
- Orthodox altar with red frontal
- Jacobean Frontal St. John's Church, Edinburgh, Scotlandcs:Antependiumlb:Antependium