Antiminsium, also ANTIMINSION (Gr. antimension, from anti, instead of, and mensa, table, altar), a consecrated corporal of a kind used only in the Greek Rite. It is called in Russian and Slavonic antimins, and answers substantially to the portable altar of the Roman Rite. It consists of a strip of fine linen or silk, usually ten inches wide and about thirteen to fourteen inches long, ornamented with the instruments of the Passion, or with a representation of Our Lord in the Sepulchre; it also contains relics of the saints which are sewn into it, and certified by the bishop. It is required to be placed on the altar in Greek churches just as an altar-stone is required in the Latin churches, and no Mass may be said upon an altar of that rite which has no antimensium. It is unfolded at the Offertory quite like the Latin corporal. Outside of the Mass it rests on the altar, folded in four parts, and enclosed in another piece of linen known as the heileton. Originally it was intended for missionaries and priests travelling in places where there was no consecrated altar, or where there was no bishop available to consecrate an altar. The bishop consecrated the antimensium almost as he would an altar, and the priest carried it with him on his journey, and spread it over any temporary altar to celebrate Mass. Originally, therefore, it stood literally for its name; it was used instead of the Holy Table for the Sacrifice of the Mass.
The word antimensium is met with for the first time about the end of the eighth and the beginning of the ninth centuries. The rapid adoption of the object was owing largely to the spread of Iconoclasm and other heresies. In the seventh canon of the Seventh General Council (787) it was ordered that “according to ancient custom which we should follow the Holy Sacrifice should only be offered on an altar consecrated by placing the relics of the saints or of martyrs therein” (Mansi, XIII, 428). As a result of this decree the use of the antimensium became quite general, because, owing to various heresies and schisms it was doubtful whether the altar in numberless churches had ever been consecrated by a bishop, or whether that rite had ever been canonically performed; on the other hand, all were anxious to comply with the canon. By the use of the antimensium, such as missionaries and travelling priests were using, the Holy Sacrifice could be offered on any altar, because the antimensium, at least, had been properly consecrated and contained the required relics. Although it was primarily intended for altars which had not been consecrated by a bishop, it gradually became used for all altars in the Greek Church. It was also much used for altars in military camps, on shipboard, and among the hermits and cenobites of the desert, where a church or a chapel was unknown. After the great schism which divided the Eastern Church from the Holy See, the antimensium was looked on as a peculiarly Greek religious article. The United Greeks have also retained it, although, by special regulation of the Holy See, in its absence an altarstone may be used by them. A Greek Catholic priest may say Mass in a Greek church upon an altarstone, yet a Latin priest may not say Mass upon an antimensium in a Latin church, although either may use the antimensium in a Greek church (Benedict XIV, Imposito nobis).
In the Council of Moscow (1675) the Russian Church decreed that antimensia should be used upon every altar, whether it had been consecrated by a bishop or not. The only apparent exception allowed in the Russian Church is that an antimensium without relics may be used upon the altar of a cathedral church. The form of consecration of the antimensia is almost the same as that followed by a bishop in consecrating an altar. Indeed, they are usually consecrated at the same time as the altar, and are considered to share in the latter’s consecration; by way of exception, especially in the Russian Church, they may be consecrated at another time. As already said, the customary material was originally pure linen; yet, since 1862, by a decree of the Holy Synod in Russia, they may be made either of linen or silk. They have varied slightly in size and form, but the kind now used is about the size of those made in the twelfth century. They are often beautifully embroidered, the decorations usually representing Our Lord in the Sepulchre, sometimes with a cross and sometimes with a chalice above Him; they also have the letters IC. XC. NIKA, i.e. “Jesus Christ conquers”, or other traditional devices worked upon them. Whenever a new antimensium is placed upon an altar the old one must not be removed, but must be kept next to the altar under the altarcloth. Usually the date of consecration is worked upon them. By a decree of the Holy Synod in 1842, each Russian church must keep an exact register of the antimensia contained in it.
ANDREW J. SHIPMAN