Illustrated Dictionary of British Churches - Communion Rail Definition

History and Architecture

Communion Rail

A railing separating an altar from nearby sections of the church. Communion rails are most commonly used to separate the sanctuary, where the high altar stands, from the chancel. In Church of England (Anglican) churches people receiving communion kneel at the rail and place their hands upon it while the priest gives them consecrated bread and wine. Such rails may generically be termed 'altar rails'. Most are of wood, though more modern versions often use iron.

One theory is that communion rails came into use for the very practical purpose of keeping dogs and other stray animals away from the altar area, at a time when bringing such animals into the church would not have been uncommon.

Related: Chancel   Sanctuary   Altar  

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