From chalice to communion cup

In 1558, the new Visitation Articles under Queen Elizabeth continued the zeal under Edward VI to destroy images of ‘feigned and false miracles, pilgrimages, idolatry and superstition’. Included in the desecration were other items of church furniture associated with the Mass. Reports told of sacring bells ‘hung about a calf’s neck’ or ‘at a horse’s ear’, and holy water vats turned into a swine’s trough. However, other injunctions sought to reassert propriety. In 1569, Archbishop Matthew Parker’s Visitation Articles in the diocese of Canterbury enquired ‘Whether they do minister in any prophane cuppes, bowles, dishes, or chalices heretofore used at masse or els in a decent Communion cuppe provided and kept for the same purpose only’. The Visitation Articles of Archbishop Edmund Grindal in 1576 asked ‘Whether you have in your Parish Churches and Chapels, a fair and comely Communion Cup of Silver, and a Cover of Silver for the same, which may serve also for the ministration of the Communion Bread’. The new orders allowed for larger vessels necessitated by ministering the wine to the laity. Medieval chalices were sometimes recycled for the purpose. The covers doubled as an alternative to the traditional paten used for the bread wafers. The two cups shown here are examples of the new ‘decent Communion cuppe’. One is from Rufforth in Yorkshire (in the centre of the left-hand photograph): it is a conical-shaped bowl with a band of dotted ornament around it which does not interlace. It has a plain stem with a knop and a plain foot which appears to have been added. There is a small upright reed ornament at the junction of the stem with the bowl. The hallmark is from York in 1570. The cup in the right-hand photograph is from Brandsby: it has a plain bell-shaped bowl, a plain stem with knop, and a moulded foot. The bowl is inscribed: Ex dono Gulielmi Berman nuper Rectoris parochiae de Brandsby anno 1665. The hallmark is from London in 1625. Both cups have covers which could be used as patens. BC

YML: Communion cups, by kind permission of the parishes of Rufforth and Brandsby

Further Reading

J. Fuller Russell, ‘Notes on Elizabethan Communion Plate’, Archaeological Journal, 35 (1878), pp. 44-53.

Bryan Spinks, Sacraments, Ceremonies and Stuart Divines (Aldershot, 2002), pp. 183–4.

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