• Greek: diptycha, a pair of tablets


Two-leaved hinged tablet of metal, ivory, or wood, the inner surface of which was covered with wax upon which characters were scratched with a stylus. Between the two tablets others were sometimes inserted, thus giving rise to the names, triptych, polyptych, etc. They were in use among the Greeks in the 6th century, B.C. In the early Church the names of the members, living or dead, were inscribed on diptychs. Saint Cyprian mentions them in the 3rd century and they were in use until the 12th in the West, and the 14th in the East. The “diptychs of the living” contained the names of the pope, the bishops, illustrious persons, lay and ecclesiastical, and benefactors. From them came the first ecclesiastical calendars and martyrologies. The “diptychs of the dead” contained the names of those otherwise qualified for inscription on the diptychs of the living. Thus originated the later necrologies. Exclusion from these lists was a grave ecclesiastical penalty. The contents of the diptychs were read aloud from the ambo or altar, and traces of the fixed usage of the Church in the 5th century may still be found in the Canon of the Mass. The long passage after the Sanctus corresponds to the ancient recital of the diptych of the living, and the recitation of that of the dead is recalled by the Memento which follows the consecration. Diptychs were also sculptured as devotional panels for altars and church walls.

MLA Citation

  • “diptych”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 29 August 2018. Web. 16 January 2019. <http://catholicsaints.info//>