German Boys' Religious Costumes: Altar Boys

Figure 1.--The boy here is Karl. We do not know his family name. We have no other information about the portrait. It is the earliest photograph we have of a German boy in liturgical clothing. We assume he is an altar boy. Boy choirs were not very common at the time. Or could this be a First Communion portrait. We do not even know if the boy is Lutheran or Catholic. We also do not know what color the robe and sash may have been. The portrait is undated, but we would guess that it was taken about 1870. Hopefully our German readers will have some insights to offer. Image courtesy of the BP collection.

We have very limited information about altar boys in Germany at this time. We do not have details on how they were dressed. We only have a few images at this time, including some idealized ones. And we note a rather pious book. Hoefully our German reders will provide us some basic ingormation.

Romantic Images

We hope to find some histic paintings providing some realistic image of altar boys during various periods. So far we have only found rather idealized images. Here we have a picture showing a friar and an altar boy crossing a stream. I have no information about the image but it is taken from a German porcelain lithophane. The priest seems bringing the Holy Communion to sick people.

Die Lausbuben des lieben Gottes

Catholic boys may also serve as altar boys. Wilhelm Hünerman in 1950 published Die Lausbuben des lieben Gottes. It contains stories about altar boys in Germany (mainly the Rhine Area, although the places can't be located exactly) and abroad. It's kind of writing is very edifying and pious, today only a few persons would read it, except one of our HBC contributors who is interested in differences between altar boys before and after II Vatican Council. Hünerman wrote that one of these altar boys had his First Communion 3 years before the time of the story and that he was confirmed 2 years later. Assuming, as it is usually the case in Germany, that children take their First Communion around 8 years of age and he was confirmed around 13 years old. That would make him about 11 years old when the story was set and he was serving as an altar boy.

Personal Experiences

A French reader tells us about his experiences as an altar boy altar boy in Nice, Paris, and Vienna before the Vatican II Council. "I was an altar boy in France and Austria. It was an important part of my childhood. I remember very well my first experience. I was about 8 years old and it was Sunday mass in Nice. I was a very inexperienced little altar boy and made several errors. Apparently during the ceremony I had an inappropriate smile rather than a more serious expression becoming such a solemn occassion. At the end of this mass the priest took me aside and told me, " Puisque tu as souris de ton petit camarade et bien dimanche prochain , tu serviras la messe , ainsi nous verrons si tu fais mieux. " (That meant, "So you were smiling at your friend, next Sunday let's come and serve the mass. We'll see if you can do better.") So it was my beginning as an altar boy which lasted until I was 14 years old. I have started as " enfant de choeur servant " then " enfant de choeur cérémonière " and also ministrant in Vienna . I had my first private Communion at 10 years , my Solemn Communion at 11 years, my Confirmation at 13. Very early, I was able to recite the mass in Latin. I learned a lot of Gregorian chants: Kyrie; Gloria; Santus; Agnus Dei; several Aria, The Benedictus, Nunc dimittis and many others ... Normaly in this time an altar boy had to know several Latin prayers. In Vienna the catechism was compulsory in the primary school."


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Created: November 5, 2002
Last updated: 12:43 AM 7/14/2006