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Chalice

  • Place of origin:

    France (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1300 - 1350 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pewter (an alloy primarily of tin with small amounts of copper and other metals, in this case, lead), cast in sections and soldered together

  • Credit Line:

    Given by J. H. Fitzhenry

  • Museum number:

    72-1904

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10, case 9

Traditionally, priests, abbots and bishops were buried with symbols of their office to identify them at the Last Judgement. Crosiers, chalices, mitres and rings have been found in ecclesiastical graves. It was common practice from at least the 11th century for out-of-date silver chalices or substitutes in base metals, generally pewter, to be used as grave goods. A note (now lost), formerly attached to the foot of this chalice and copied to the Museum acquisition register translates as: "pewter chalice found in 1832 at Verdun in the tomb of Etienne Bourgeois, Abbot of St. Vanne, who died 24th March 1452." It was probably old when buried, and from its style may be perhaps 100 years earlier.

In 1229 the Bishop of Worcester declared that all churches should own two chalices, one in silver for use during the celebration of the Mass, and the other in tin, to be buried with the priest. Eight out of nine 13th-century graves searched in Lincoln Cathedral in 1955, (in a vain attempt to find the body of Hugh of Avalon, Bishop of Lincoln from 1181-1200) contained pewter chalices and patens.

Burial chalices were possibly simple representations of the priest's holy office. However, they may also have had a more literal symbolism. A manuscript, the Mitral by Sicardus Bishop of Cremona (died 1215), records that the "chalice [signifies] the body, because wine is in the chalice, blood is in the body".

The use of pewter in a church context has been debated since early medieval times. Was it appropriate to use a non-precious metal for sacred purposes? The Council of Reims in 803 was the first recorded body to sanction its use but only for churches that could not afford silver or gold. The Synod of Rouen, in 1074, reinforced this option when expressly forbidding the use of wooden vessels. The Council of Westminster in 1175, however, instructed that only vessels of silver or gold should be consecrated. For many churches, precious metals were simply too expensive and pewter was substituted.

Until about 1400 churches provided the principal market for pewter, although sepulchral chalices are still rare survivors of the medieval pewterer’s craft and, as they are usually untouched, are often have details in reasonable condition.

Physical description

Pewter sepulchral chalice (burial chalice) with large and plain trumpet-shaped foot, circular knop and wide, shallow bowl. Inside the bowl is set a 14th-century French jetton (coin) bearing the legend AVE MARIA GRACIA PLENA (Hail Mary, Full of Grace). The design, a cross with fleur-de-lys inside a quatrefoil, is based on contemporary gold coins such as the masse d'or of Philip IV le Bel (1285-1314). On one side of the chalice are thick accretions suggesting it lay for many years half submerged in liquid. The stem has very clear decorative rings, formed by turning the stem on a lathe and placing a sharp tool against it.

Place of Origin

France (probably, made)

Date

ca. 1300 - 1350 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Pewter (an alloy primarily of tin with small amounts of copper and other metals, in this case, lead), cast in sections and soldered together

Marks and inscriptions

French jetton (coin) set inside bowl bearing the legend AVE MARIA GRACIA PLENA (Hail Mary, Full of Grace).

2 notes stuck to base:
(1.) 72-1904 ON LOAN FROM Fitzhenry Esq October 1896
(2.) 226

Dimensions

Height: 15.5 cm, Diameter: 12.0 cm base, Length: 11.0 cm bowl, Width: 10.0 cm bowl

Object history note

This is a burial chalice. It was common practice from the 11th century for out-of-date silver or silver substitutes in base metal to be used as grave goods. A note (now lost) formerly attached to the foot of this chalice and copied to the Museum register stated: "Calice en étain trouvé en 1832 à Verdun (Meuse) dans le tombeau d'Etienne Bourgeois abbé de St. Vanne, mort le 24 Mars 1452" (Pewter chalice found in 1832 at Verdun in the tomb of Etienne Bourgeois, Abbot of St. Vanne, who died 24th March 1452). It may have been old when buried, perhaps 14th century.

Historical context note

The use of pewter in the church has long been debated. Was it appropriate to use a non-precious metal for sacred purposes? The Council of Reims in 803 was the first recorded body to sanction its use but only for churches that could not afford silver or gold. The Synod of Rouen, in 1074, reinforced this option when expressly forbidding the use of wooden vessels. In England, however, the Council of Westminster in 1175 instructed that only vessels of silver or gold should be consecrated.

In 1229 the Bishop of Worcester declared that all churches should own two chalices, one in silver for use during the celebration of the Mass, and the other in tin, to be buried with the priest. Eight out of nine 13th-century graves searched in Lincoln Cathedral in 1955, (in a vain attempt to find the body of Hugh of Avalon, Bishop of Lincoln from 1181-1200) contained pewter chalices and patens.

Burial chalices represented both the priest's holy office, his occupation when alive and also, perhaps, the sinful nature of his dead body. Sicardus, the thirteenth-century bishop of Cremona, had observed in a treatise on priestly duties that chalices of pewter ‘refer to the similarity between guilt and punishment’.

Until about 1400 churches provided the principal market for pewter and more early church pewter survives than early domestic pewter. However, sepulchral chalices are relatively rare survivors of the medieval pewterer’s craft and, as they are usually untouched, often have details in excellent condition.

Descriptive line

Pewter burial chalice with large trumpet-shaped foot, French, 1300-1350

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

North, Anthony, Pewter at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, V&A Publications 1999 (Reprinted 2000), cat. 6, p.43, ill. ISBN 185177 2235
Christopher A. Markham, Pewter Marks and Old Pewter Ware, Domestic and Ecclesiastical (London: Reeves and Turner, 1909)
Sicardus Cremonensis, Mitrale, sive summa de officiis ecclesiasticis, Book I, chapter xiii, in J.-P. Migne, Patrologia Latina (Paris: 1855), vol.213, col. 55C-56A, and see on-line at http://pld.chadwyck.co.uk/>.
Ron Homer, ' Tin, lead and pewter ', pp.57-80 in English Medieval Industries, ed. John Blair and Nigel Ramsay, London 1992
C.C. Oman English Church Plate, 597-1830, Oxford 1957

Production Note

Attribution date based on comparison of style with silver examples and with other burial chalices.

Materials

Pewter

Techniques

Casting; Soldering; Turning

Categories

Archaeology; Christianity; Drinking; Metalwork; Ceremonial objects; Religion; Christianity

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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