A word of which the etymology is disputed, was the name given in early times to a pillared canopy, of Byzantine origin, erected over the altar. In the late Middle Ages it was applied to a small sacrament house with a gabled top in which the Blessed Sacrament was reserved. Finally, in the 16th century, it was used to designate the vessel in which the Blessed Sacrament was reserved for the Communion of the faithful. This vessel is but a developed form of the pyx, which, in the 13th century, acquired a foot under the cylindrical container. At first the ciborium was small, containing but a few consecrated hosts for the sick. After the Council of Trent, Communion of the faithful became less infrequent, and was given from previously consecrated Hosts kept in the tabernacle. The ciborium then had to be made larger, and was given the shape of a cup, often with a conical lid.
Bibliography: j. braun, Das chrisliche Altargerät (Munich 1932).
[c. w. howell/eds.]
ci·bo·ri·um / səˈbôrēəm/ • n. (pl. -bo·ri·a / -ˈbôrēə/ ) 1. a receptacle shaped like a shrine or a cup with an arched cover, used in the Christian Church for the reservation of the Eucharist. 2. a canopy over an altar in a church, standing on four pillars.