Communion Cup thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Sacred Silver & Stained Glass, Room 84, The Whiteley Galleries

Communion Cup

1568–1569 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

This cup was used in Protestant worship to serve the consecrated wine during Holy Communion. It follows the standard design for Elizabethan communion cups.

During the Reformation there was a return to a simpler, more direct form of worship. 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.

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, such as this.


Object details

Categories
Object type
Materials and techniques
Silver
Brief description
Silver, London hallmarks for 1568-9, mark unidentified.
Physical description
Communion cup
Dimensions
  • Height: 172mm
  • Of cup diameter: 89mm
  • Of base diameter: 78mm
Gallery label
  • 5-6. Two Communion Cups and Patens Both these cups were made by London goldsmiths, but only the Bletchingley one (5) has followed the new, prescribed form. 5. London, England, 1568-9, maker's mark 'A' in a shield. Silver On loan from St Mary the Virgin Church, Bletchingley, Surrey.(2008)
  • Two Communion Cups and Patens This cup was used in Protestant worship to serve the consecrated wine during Holy Communion. It follows the standard design for Elizabethan communion cups. During the Reformation there was a return to a simpler, more direct form of worship. 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. 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, such as this. London, England, 1568–9; maker’s mark ‘A’ in a shield. Silver On loan from St Mary the Virgin church, Bletchingley, Surrey(22/11/2005)
Credit line
Lent by St. Mary the Virgin Church, Bletchingley, Surrey
Historical context
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.
Summary
This cup was used in Protestant worship to serve the consecrated wine during Holy Communion. It follows the standard design for Elizabethan communion cups.

During the Reformation there was a return to a simpler, more direct form of worship. 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.

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, such as this.
Bibliographic reference
Cooper, Rev. T.S. The Church Plate of Surrey. London: Roworth and Co. Ltd., for The Surrey Archaeological Society, 1902.
Collection
Accession number
LOAN:BLETCHINGLEY.1

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Record createdNovember 8, 2005
Record URL
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