- Place of origin:
England, Great Britain (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Sacred Silver & Stained Glass, room 84, case 6A
In England after the Reformation, communion wine was offered to the whole congregation, not just the priest. By 1600 most parishes refilled the communion cup from a flagon, often like the ones people used in their homes.
An ecclesiastical law authorised by James I in 1603 stated that wine should be brought to the communion table 'in a clean and sweet standing pot or stoup of pewter - if not of purer metal'. This example is inscribed with the names of William Hunt and Arthur Dawson, churchwardens of a parish in Fosdyke, Lincolnshire.
Pewter flagon with skirted foot, strap handle and slightly domed lid with thumb-piece. Inscription on the body.
Place of Origin
England, Great Britain (made)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 27.8 cm without lid, Diameter: 15.3 cm base
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.
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.
Pewter flagon with skirted foot, strap handle and slightly domed lid with thumb-piece. English, 1639.
The Reformation in England (Sacred Silver and Stained Glass Galleries, the Victoria and Albert Museum 22/11/2005-22/11/2005)
Labels and date
This flagon was used in Protestant worship to hold the communion wine. In England after the Reformation, the whole congregation took the wine, not just the priest. An ecclesiastical law of 1603, authorised by James I, stated that it should be brought to the communion table ‘in a clean and sweet standing pot or stoup of pewter – if not of purer metal’.
The flagon is inscribed with the names of William Hunt and Arthur Dawson, churchwardens of a parish in Fosdyke, Lincolnshire. Like many of the flagons used in church, it is just like the ones that people had in their homes.
Probably Lincolnshire, England, dated 1639
Museum no. 511-1901 [22/11/2005]
Household objects; Drinking; Metalwork