- Place of origin:
ca. 1540 (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Sacred Silver & Stained Glass, Room 83, The Whiteley Galleries, case 1 
A ciborium is a lidded chalice shaped container used to store the consecrated communion wafers in a church.
The small figure of a bird on the cover is known as the 'pelican in her piety'. According to legend, when the pelican could not find food for her young, she plucked her breast and fed them with her own blood. The pelican’s self sacrifice became a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice for humanity. This symbol is often found on objects associated with communion such as ciboria or pyxes
Gadrooned container with a chased stem, the cover surmounted by a figure of the pelican in her piety.
Place of Origin
ca. 1540 (made)
Materials and Techniques
Marks and inscriptions
Height: 24 cm, Width: 11 cm
Historical context note
Saints and Symbols
Like most religions, Christianity has a rich language of images and symbols. This iconography would have been clearly understood in the past but it may be less familiar to modern eyes.
Though often decorative, the symbols used on religious metalwork also refer to the function and significance of the objects. The contemplation of religious motifs can draw believers into a deeper understanding of their faith. Complex theological themes can be represented in a visual form. A chalice, for example, might be adorned with the tools used in the Crucifixion (the ‘Instruments of the Passion’) to direct the viewer’s mind towards Christ’s sacrifice and his death on the cross.
The use of images has caused controversy throughout Christian history. While supporters held that imagery glorified God and helped believers understand their faith better, critics attacked its use as superstition and idolatry.
Christians venerate saints as men and women who, through the holiness of their lives, became especially close to God. The saints include martyrs who suffered and died for their faith as well as great teachers and preachers. Their lives provide an example and inspiration for the faithful. Roman Catholics also believe that saints can intercede on their behalf with God. In Christian iconography, saints are usually depicted with a distinctive object or ‘attribute’ associated with their martyrdom or works. For example, St Bartholomew, who was skinned alive, holds a flaying knife, and St George is shown with a dragon.
Copper-gilt ciborium, Italy around 1540.
Labels and date
A ciborium is a lidded, chalice-shaped container used to store the consecrated communion wafers in a church.
The small figure of a bird on the cover is known as the ‘Pelican in her Piety’. According to legend, when the pelican could not find food for her young, she plucked her breast and fed them with her own blood. The pelican’s self sacrifice became a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice for humanity. This symbol is often found on objects associated with Holy Communion.
Italy, about 1540
Museum no. 4285-1857 [22/11/2005]
Metalwork; Religion; Christianity