Portable Altar

One of the most interesting and unique items present at the Wignacourt museum is the portable altar found on the first floor. These types of altars were used on the galleys of the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of St John. These were practical since they enabled the knights to say mass at any given place or time as these alters closed up into a box and could be easily transported. Every galley of the Knights most likely had their own portable altar onboard. For this reason it is quite surprising that the one at the Wignacourt Museum is the only known portable altar of this kind. Others of its kind must have gone missing over time. 

These portable altars were made with the rough seas in mind. In fact, the chalices on these altars were suspended and would balance depending on the movement of the waves. This altar has two lamps which would have illuminated the altar during mass. In the centre of the altar is a small crucifix which is made out of bone. Still visible are also some prayers in Latin, which would have been recited by the Knights. These portable altars also had some storage space on the sides which were used to put in candles, hosts and all things necessary to celebrate mass. These items truly bring the knights period back to life, as spectators can imagine such altars being used on the knight’s galleys while out at sea.