A reredos (or a “retablo” in Spanish) is a screen or decoration that fits behind an altar. It can be made of various types of materials. It can be carved of marble or wood. It can be gilded or painted. It can be low or many stories high. A reredos can frequently include niches for religious images. They may incorporate a variety of types of religious art forms, from icons to paintings, from mosaics to statues, and even to an occasional tapestry. The reredos acts like a dramatic backdrop to help us visually focus on the altar, and to lend it architectural and artistic importance. The reredos draws the worshipper’s eyes to what should be the centerpiece of any Catholic church. Not every parish church has a reredos, and sadly many modern altars can look rather mundane and naked these days, but a reredos can help to set this particular “table” apart from ordinary tables, and demonstrates through art its significance, for on a Catholic altar, heaven and earth meet.
Our handsome parish altar, hand carved in the Philippines and adorned with linens and seasonal frontals throughout the year, could hardly be mistaken for an ordinary table. Still, the soaring reredos built (by our parishioners) with a combination of stone and wood helps to anchor our crucifix and altar appropriately for this rural church. The low organ casings are a part of this architectural pastiche, and they incorporate sixteen arches wherein we integrate iconography on the style of the rood screens of old. Rood screens were akin to the iconostasis in eastern churches, and like the reredos, they provided places for iconography to help frame the mysteries with art (though in their cases, those screens went in front of, not behind, the altar). The icons we see in our reredos are commissioned from a local artist, and they provide us an opportunity to incorporate some saints that are not otherwise depicted in our parish church. These saints include saints from various epochs and parts of the world. Of these, we see included the following:
St. Sebastian is seen shirtless. He is the patron saint of athletes, and was a soldier and bore strong witness for Christ in the third century, when the Church was under persecution. He was martyred in AD 287, and his feast day is January 20th.