Monday, June 2, 2014

How to Make a Home Shrine

The home is the domestic Church (CCC 1658). Nothing could be more Catholic than to dedicate a corner of your home to the worship of God. When people walk into your house, you want them to know that you have a Catholic home. It is a place of witness, as well as private prayer.

Every shrine should reflect what is meaningful to you. But at a minimum, there should be a crucifix, and a table for things like the family Bible, prayer books, and a votive candle. Cut flowers are nice, when available. We have a lampada with a perpetual flame that burns olive oil. (You learn a lot about the importance of not running out of oil, and trimming your wicks.) They may be easily found through Orthodox suppliers. In fact, since the Orthodox maintain a tradition of the "icon corner," a good Orthodox supplier might be a good first stop.

Here is a picture of our home shrine, in a corner of our dining room.

The crucifix is from St. Meinrad Archabbey. Yes, it's big. The large icon of the Theotokos is from Russia, and was a gift. In front of it burns our lampada, which would not be out of place at the Czar's Winter Palace. It is much more imposing than it looked in the catalog, and the Bear's mate was a bit surprised when we unboxed it. Oh, well. It is beautiful.

The seasonal icon is displayed below, in this case, Christ breaking the doors of Hell and leading out Adam and Eve for Easter. During ordinary time, we bring out various other icons: The Ladder, Christ the Sower, or maybe a patron saint. Christ the Good Shepherd is to the left of the Theotokos, and below Him is a cross-shaped Western-style icon of St. Benedict. (We are a Benedictine household, after all.)

It is traditional for Catholic families to "enthrone" the Sacred Heart of Jesus and possibly the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and both may be seen to the right.

On the table is a statue of the Virgin Mary (lest anyone mistake us for Orthodox), a votive candle, a Bible (Douay-Rheims, if you're wondering, with Haydock's notes) and two copies of "Christian Prayer" to do the Divine Office.

The cloth on top is a great way to use heirloom linens. We found this in my mom's house after she died; it has shamrocks crocheted into the borders. Of course, we rotate them for cleaning purposes.

What about the fire hazard? one might ask. The Bear has kept the lampada lit for many years without a mishap more serious than a drop of spilled olive oil. With ordinary care, it shouldn't be a danger, but use your own judgment. We try not to leave candles unattended, say, when we go to bed, or when we leave the house.

That's really all there is to it. The only particular custom associated with "icon corners" is that Orthodox will go to it upon entering a house and say a brief prayer, a "greeting," as it were. Common decency requires that one keep the lamp clean, and dispose of any oil or tissues used in cleaning in an appropriate way (e.g. buried in the flower bed), not dumped into the garbage.

The home shrine is a powerful witness to visitors, and an excellent place to pray. It can also a creative way to personalize your devotion to the glory of God.


  1. Thank you, Bear!! I hope that this will inspire many visitors here to create their own home shrines.

    Several years ago, re-reading "Little Women" - a "children's book" that still holds my interest regardless of the passage of time - I was struck by this:

    "Esther fitted up the closet with a little table, placed a footstool before it, and over it a picture taken from one of the shut-up rooms. She thought it was of no great value, but, being appropriate, she borrowed it, well knowing that Madame would never know it, nor care if she did. It was, however, a very valuable copy of one of the famous pictures of the world, and Amy's beauty-loving eyes were never tired of looking up at the sweet face of the Divine Mother, while her tender thoughts of her own were busy at her heart. On the table she laid her little testament and hymnbook, kept a vase always full of the best flowers Laurie brought her, and came every day to 'sit alone' thinking good thoughts, and praying the dear God to preserve her sister. Esther had given her a rosary of black beads with a silver cross, but Amy hung it up and did not use it, feeling doubtful as to its fitness for Protestant prayers.

    "The little girl was very sincere in all this, for being left alone outside the safe home nest, she felt the need of some kind hand to hold by so sorely that she instinctively turned to the strong and tender Friend, whose fatherly love most closely surrounds His little children. She missed her mother's help to understand and rule herself, but having been taught where to look, she did her best to find the way and walk in it confidingly."

    I thank Louisa May Alcott - a New England Protestant with an opener heart and mind than I was brought up to associate with New England Protestantism! - for the insights that perhaps have moved a goodly number of her readers, these nearly 150 years, to respond to their heart's desire for a home shrine. I imagine many children, living in spiritually barren homes, perhaps doing so in secret.

  2. You're welcome Jane! I would love it if people were moved to do that. I can't overstate what a blessing it is. I can only imagine what effect it has on visitors, especially dinner guests. It does dominate the dining room. Some people have big flat screen TVs, we have a shrine complete with a golden double-headed eagle Romanov lampada! (Not real gold, but even so...) Our kids grew up with it. Somewhere I have a picture of the twins in Cub Scout uniforms in front of it; now they have both been in the Army. How many times I have prayer for their well-being there, that they be sent good companions (the most important thing). This is a good intro to Adventures in Orthodoxy.


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