When one thinks of treasures, the first things that usually come to mind are items that are valuable in themselves, like gold or precious stones; but one of the Wignacourt’s most prized possessions is a modest portable altar many would probably walk past.
Found on the first floor of the museum, the portable altar is neither adorned with gold nor was it particularly valuable in its heyday. But centuries later, as the rest of its kin have been lost to time, it has become a truly unique object.
This kind of altar was a staple on any galley bearing the flag of the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of St John, and were highly practical since they allowed the knights to hear Mass whenever and wherever they needed to.
The altar, although quite compact when set up, has storage space on either side where candles, Hosts and anything else needed to celebrate Mass can be stowed away. It also has two lamps which illuminate the altar while being used; a small crucifix in its centre made out of ivory; and is decorated with prayers in Latin which would have been recited by the knights – although these have mostly faded away.
In its simplicity, however, the altar is also impressive, particularly in the way it was built with the motion of the rough seas in mind. The chalices used on such altars were suspended right underneath the ivory crucifix, and they could balance themselves out depending on the movement of the waves and the tilting of the vessel. The altar found at the Wignacourt is even more special than all the other alters of its kind, because it is the only known portable altar of the sort to survive the test of time.