Ash Wednesday has long been one of my favorite days on the Liturgical Calendar. Reminding people of their mortality is a task that ranks among the more solemn of my responsibilities, but more important is reminding people of just what God can do with dust and ashes.
Last year, my Ash Wednesday altarscape featured lots of burlap and shards of mirror. (Read about how those shards came to be here. See a detailed tutorial on creating that altarscape here.)
This year, I decided to put my burlap away and pieces of broken mirror for a different look.
I found some beautiful fabric at my local (and beloved) $1.99/yd Fabric Store. It’s got a quilted feel, fades from a mauve to a deep blue/purple, and has an unfinished edge which is PERFECT for Lent because, you know, it’s a season all about our rough edges and unfinished natures.
Pro tip: Link Sundays in a season together by using elements multiple times in a season. You’ll see that purple fabric and brown bowl a couple of times from me this Lent.
Here’s how I put it together. First, I started with one of our two Communion Tables. This one dates to at least the 1880s. We have a newer one that’s bigger, but it’s a little flashier (white, gold trim, wording) and this one suits a season like Lent better. Also, it’s got a great shape that mimics the shape of the pulpit, which I prefer.
Next, I added the foundation fabric. This fabric is pretty stiff and is definitely on the thicker side, so it’s less of a draping fabric and more of a laying fabric.
On top of that fabric, I added a puddle of gray fabric to create a base for our ashes (it is, after all, Ash Wednesday, no?).
Next, the altarscape designer’s best friend: hymnals. Hymnals provide height in incremental additions and most churches have them in abundance. Pro tip: don’t use Bibles. People can get a little worked up if you use Bibles.
Then, add fabric to conceal the hymnals.
A couple of years ago, I found a clay bowl on a trip to Gatlinburg (don’t ask, but it did involve a high school band festival and a woman screaming “oh, sh*t!” as we hit the highest point on the Ober Gatlinburg ride). The bowl had broken and been fixed before being fired, and still carries the marks of those repairs. It seemed a beautiful reminder of how we are pieced back together from our brokenness.
That bowl is the centerpiece of this year’s Ash Wednesday altarscape. On Wednesday, I’ll put a smaller vessel inside with the ashes we’ll use during the service.
In darkness, there is light. So next, we need some candles! I found these on sale at Target and added them around the bowl. The three candles point to the Trinity and these particular votives are surprisingly vivid when lit at night. Pro tip: groupings of odd numbers are more appealing than even number groupings.
The final look:
Here’s to keeping a Holy Lent, friends. Keep checking back for altarscapes for the whole of the season!
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