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Pyx

  • Place of origin:

    England (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1600 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silver and rock crystal

  • Museum number:

    M.18-2012

  • Gallery location:

    Sacred Silver & Stained Glass, Room 83, The Whiteley Galleries, case 4A

A pyx (from the Greek for ‘box’) was used in Roman Catholic worship to contain the Sacred Host, the consecrated bread or wafer used in the Mass, or to take it to the bedside of the sick.

This example comes from the period when English Catholics had to worship in secret. It is engraved with biblical motifs and Latin inscriptions that refer to the Eucharist, the moment when the consecrated bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. The cover shows the Crucifixion flanked by scenes of Moses with the brazen serpent and the sacrifice of Isaac. These episodes from the Old Testament were believed to be prefigurations of Christ’s sacrifice.

Physical description

Circular silver pyx engraved on the back with the Crucifixion flanked by figures of Mary and St John with to the left Moses and the brazen serpent and to the right the sacrifice of Isaac. The front is inset with rock crystal and attached to the container by two hinges suggesting the the pyx was later adapted for use as a reliquary

Place of Origin

England (probably, made)

Date

ca. 1600 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Silver and rock crystal

Marks and inscriptions

Inscribed beneath the scene of the Crucifixion:
‘FILIVS IMMOLATUS DATVR CIBVS VIATORIBVS'

Around the rim of the side depicting the Crucifixion:
‘+ HÆC EST MENSA DOMINI NOBIS DE CÆLO PARATA ADVERSVS OMNES QUI TRIBVLANT NOS’.

The reverse is engraved with two angels flanking a glazed roundel through which the Host would originally have been visible, the inscription below:
'VERBVM CARO FACTVM'
‘FILIVS IMMOLATUS DATVR CIBVS VIATORIBVS’, Latin, 'The son who was sacrificed is given as food to travellers’; ‘HÆC EST MENSA DOMINI NOBIS DE CÆLO PARATA ADVERSVS OMNES QVI TRIBVLANT NOS’, Latin, 'This is the table of our Lord prepared for us from Heaven against all those who bring us tribulation'; 'VERBVM CARO FACTVM [est]', Latin, from the 'Angelus' prayer, 'The Word is made flesh'.
VERBVM CARO FACTVM are the words from the second Gospel of St John from the Old Tridentine Mass which symbolize the moment in the liturgy when transubstantiation occurs, an appropriate inscription for a pyx which held the wafer that became the body of Christ. The words PARATA ADVERSVS OMNES QVI TRIBVLANT NOS indicate that this pyx belonged to a recusant as it refers to those who bring us tribulation.

Dimensions

Height: 9.8 cm with suspension ring, Height: 8.2 cm without the ring, Width: 8.2 cm, Depth: 1.7 cm

Historical context note

Secret Catholicism
After the Reformation, the Roman Catholic faith was severely restricted. Catholics who refused to attend Church of England services were known as recusants and until the late 17th century they had to worship in secret. However, the Dukes of Norfolk and aristocratic families such as the Arundells at Wardour Castle encouraged Catholic communities to use their private chapels and so kept the faith alive.

The Catholic plate that survives from before the 1660s is mainly limited to chalices, paxes and pyxes. These earlier pieces are rarely marked. After 1688, Catholic plate was more often hallmarked and the range of forms expanded to include sanctuary lamps, cruets and incense boats.

In London, Catholics could worship openly in foreign embassy chapels. The silver from the Sardinian Embassy chapel can be seen in the case to the right. During the reign of Charles II, Catholic courtiers could also attend the queen's private chapel and that of the Queen Mother, Henrietta Maria.

Descriptive line

Silver-gilt, probably England, ca.1600, unmarked, but with a rock crystal aperture on the front (probably a later addition) which is attached to the container by a double hinge. The back is engraved with the Crucifixion. The front of the container is edged with a continuous chain.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Oman, Charles. English Church Plate, 597-1830. London: Oxford University Press, 1957.

Labels and date

Circular Pyx
A pyx (from the Greek for ‘box’) was used in Roman Catholic worship to contain the Sacred Host, the consecrated bread or wafer used in the Mass, or to take it to the bedside of the sick.

This example comes from the period when English Catholics had to worship in secret. It is engraved with biblical motifs and Latin inscriptions that refer to the Eucharist, the moment when the consecrated bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. The cover shows the Crucifixion flanked by scenes of Moses with the brazen serpent and the sacrifice of Isaac. These episodes from the Old Testament were believed to be prefigurations of Christ’s sacrifice.

Probably England, about 1600
Silver gilt
M.18-2012 [22/11/2005]

Materials

Silver; Rock crystal

Techniques

Engraving

Subjects depicted

Christianity; Religion; Typology

Categories

Christianity; Metalwork; Religion

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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