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Definition of ALTAR
: a usually raised structure or place on which sacrifices are offered or incense is burned in worship —often used figuratively to describe a thing given great or undue precedence or value especially at the cost of something else <sacrificed his family life on the altar of career advancement>
: a table on which the eucharistic elements are consecrated or which serves as a center of worship or ritual
Raised structure or place used for sacrifice, worship, or prayer. Altars probably originated with the belief that objects or places (e.g., a tree or spring) were inhabited by spirits or deities worthy of prayers or gifts. Sacrifice to deities required a structure on which the victim could be killed and blood channeled off or flesh burned. In ancient Israel, the altar was a rectangular stone with a hollowed-out basin on top. The ancient Greeks placed altars (seebaetylus) in homes, marketplaces, public buildings, and sacred groves. Roman altars were similarly ubiquitous and were often decorated with relief sculptures. Christians at first did not use altars, but by the 3rd century the table on which the Eucharist was celebrated was regarded as an altar. It became the focus of the mass in Christian churches and in Western churches was often adorned by a baldachin and an altarpiece.