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Objectively, they are just a patterned piece of cloth and a stone slab, but what they symbolize depends entirely on the viewer.

The Confederate battle flag connotes heritage or oppression in the eyes of the beholder. Go back several centuries and you might find similar arguments about the portable altar. Well, arguments imagined by a novelist. The pagans Charlemagne’s Franks warred against did not write down their side of the story.

Both Christians and pagans would agree the portable altar was a symbol of Christian victory. While one side found comfort and reassurance from a familiar worship service and the literal presence of Christ in the wine and altar bread, the other would see oppression. This tension was a part of The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, as you will see in this excerpt:

The stink of smoke lingered where the Irminsul had once overlooked the river, and an odd display sat amid the charred pieces of the pillar. Deorlaf made a face as if he had smelled a rotten egg. It was bad enough the Franks had burned the Irminsul. Now they had to desecrate the ground with their symbols.

A jewel-encrusted cross rested on a table, which was adorned with an embroidered cloth glittering with precious stones. In front of the table lay a glossy stone slab in a gem-studded gold frame. An eight-sided wooden structure, each wall the length of a hut, stood a few paces away.

For more about why a portable altar was as important as weapons to a medieval army, see my post in English Historical Fiction Authors.

P.S. For the record, I believe the Confederate battle flag belongs in a museum with other artifacts of the past, not the grounds of a statehouse, the home of today’s government.

An 11th century portable altar An 11th century portable altar from the Walters Art Museum (public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons)