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Communion cup

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1622-1623 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silver-gilt, raised and incised

  • Credit Line:

    Lent by the Rector and Churchwardens of St Mary-le-Bow and United Parishes (from St Augustine and St Faith's, Old Change)

  • Museum number:

    LOAN:ST AUGUSTINE.15

  • Gallery location:

    Sacred Silver & Stained Glass, Room 84, The Whiteley Galleries, case 6A

This impressive cup was used in Protestant worship to serve the consecrated wine during Holy Communion. Although made in the 1620s, the cup is in the style of 50 years earlier. It was commissioned by the church of St Faith’s, in the City of London, to match one made in 1568.

The earlier cup had been made during the period of refashioning, when the ‘old massing chalices’ were replaced by ‘decent’ communion cups, as prescribed by the Reformation. Protestants rejected the Roman Catholic belief in ‘transubstantiation’, in which the bread and wine are miraculously transformed during the Mass into the body and blood of Christ, and proposed instead a symbolic service of shared communion. In this, the congregation would regularly take wine as well as bread, whereas before they had been chiefly spectators.

Physical description

Silver-gilt communion cup. Domed foot with trumpet shaped stem with an applied hemispherical knop. Raised bowl decorated with two bands of cross hatched foliage.

Place of Origin

London (made)

Date

1622-1623 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Silver-gilt, raised and incised

Marks and inscriptions

London hallmarks for 1622-23

Mark: HS above a heart (unidentified)

Dimensions

Height: 245 mm, Diameter: 107 mm of cup, Diameter: 105 mm of base

Object history note

The communion cup is inscribed 'St Faith's' for the former parish of St Faith under St Paul's. After the Great Fire, no new church or chapel was built, and the parish of Saint Faith under Saint Paul was united to the parish of Saint Augustine Watling Street in 1670.

Although made in the 1620s, this impressive cup is in the style of 50 years earlier. It was commissioned by the church of St. Faith's in the City of London, to match one made in 1568 during the period of refashioning.

Historical context note

The Reformation in England
On the eve of the Reformation, churchgoing in England was a colourful, sensory experience, rich in ceremony. In the 1530s, however, Henry VIII threw off the authority of the pope. Under his successor Edward VI (reigned 1547-53) major changes in worship and church decoration were introduced.

English Reformers wanted a return to a simpler, more direct form of worship. Their boldest move was to reject the Roman Catholic belief in 'transubstantiation', in which the bread and wine are miraculously transformed during the Mass into the body and blood of Christ. They proposed instead a symbolic service of shared communion, conducted in interiors stripped of distracting furnishings and images. The congregation would play an active role in the communion, regularly taking wine as well as bread, whereas before they had been chiefly spectators.

Crown commissioners confiscated or destroyed much of the goldsmiths' work of the medieval church. Some parishes concealed or sold their silver before the commissioners arrived, but by the early 1550s, many were left with just a single cup and paten. Some churches had no precious metal at all.

Consolidation
The success of the Reformation by 1600 owed much to an ingrained culture of obedience to the crown. During the brief reign of Mary I (1553-8) England returned to Catholicism, but under Elizabeth I it swung back to Protestantism, spurred on by state propaganda that Catholicism represented a political threat. Even so, this rupture with the past met with quiet resistance as many people were attached to the old faith and its trappings.

To consolidate this break with traditional religion, the church authorities launched a programme from about 1560 to replace the 'old massing chalices' with 'decent' communion cups of prescribed design. This gave a massive boost to the goldsmiths' trade and the great demand led to the formal establishment of assay offices outside London, at Chester, York, Norwich and Exeter. About 2000 communion cups from the period survive.

Descriptive line

Silver-gilt, London hallmarks for 1622-23, mark of HS above a heart (unidentified)

Labels and date

COMMUNION CUP Silver-gilt LONDON Hallmark for 1622-23
Maker's Mark: HS above a hear. A later replica of the 1568-69 cup also in this case
Lent by the Rector and Churchwardens of St Mary-le-Bow and United Parishes (from St.Augustine, and St Faith's Old Chance), London. No.15 [1980]
Communion Cup
This impressive cup was used in Protestant worship to serve the consecrated wine during Holy Communion. Although made in the 1620s, the cup is in the style of 50 years earlier. It was commissioned by the church of St Faith’s, in the City of London, to match one made in 1568.

The earlier cup had been made during the period of refashioning, when the ‘old massing chalices’ were replaced by ‘decent’ communion cups, as prescribed by the Reformation. Protestants rejected the Roman Catholic belief in ‘transubstantiation’, in which the bread and wine are miraculously transformed during the Mass into the body and blood of Christ, and proposed instead a symbolic service of shared communion. In this, the congregation would regularly take wine as well as bread, whereas before they had been chiefly spectators.

London, England, 1622–3; maker’s mark ‘HS’
above a heart
Silver gilt
On loan from St Mary-le-Bow church, London [22/11/2005]

Materials

Silver; Gold

Techniques

Raising; Engraving (incising); Gilding

Categories

Christianity; Metalwork; Religion

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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