Project Canterbury

The Chalice and Paten.

By Percy Dearmer.

London: The Warham Guild, 1920.

FROM the earliest times some kind of plate was required for the bread of the eucharist, and some vessel for the wine-or rather for the wine mixed with water, since the admixture was so general that “Misce mi!” in Imperial Rome was the phrase used for “Fill my cup with wine.” As it happens, there are two frescoes surviving in the Catacombs of Rome of the second century (A.D. 100-150), which illustrate the primitive Church custom. [3/4] In the “Fractio Panis” fresco in the Capella Greca, Catacomb of Priscilla, the bishop or president sits at the head of a table (on the left) whereat recline six other people, in the act of breaking the bread, the picture representing a Eucharist .in commemoration of the departed such as actually took place in the little chapel. There are two plates, one containing five small round loaves or rolls, the other two fishes which are introduced with symbolical reference to Christ as the Icthus. Near the bishop can be dimly discerned a simple mug with two handles.

In the Crypt of Lucina, of the same date, are two paintings of the symbolical fish, on each of which rests a basket containing small loaves of the same type, and through the openings of the basket in each case is very dearly painted a glass vessel containing red wine. The symbolism is complete, although the larger picture between them is now completely destroyed. It is known that glass chalices were sometimes used; and it is probable that even the wicker basket was not unknown, for S. Jerome some three centuries later says: “No one is so rich as he who carries the body of Christ in a wicker basket, and his blood in cup of glass.”

By the sixth century, there is a type of flagon pretty dearly fixed as a classical cantharus, narrow-necked, with two handles: there is however good reason to suppose that a more convenient shape of chalice was employed for the actual communion of the people at this time. Such a chalice is borne by the Empress Theodora in the well-known sixth century mosaic in S. Vitale, Ravenna: it is studded with gems, and differs from our present-day [4/5] chalices mainly in its much greater size. The earliest examples that have come down to us are also not much unlike our own. The Gourdon chalice, the earliest of all (before A.D. 527), has it is true two handles, and so have some later examples.

What does distinguish the earlier chalices is that they are very large, and so constructed and decorated that they could not be easily cleansed; from which we may conclude that the feeling about the Real Presence was less material than that of the later Middle Ages when the doctrine of transubstantiation was established. There are, for instance, in the treasury of S. Mark’s, Venice, thirty-two Byzantine chalices of the larger type, mostly of agate, sardonyx, or glass in silver-gilt mounts: one example is of alabaster, with metal bands and rim, of the eleventh century, which has a high foot, and another of the same period with a low foot, from which a large scrolled handle rises to the rim on each side. These are the two general types, but sometimes the handled varieties have a high foot; and some examples have enamel round the rim, or all over the bowl.

In the later Middle Ages the bowls were made plain, as in the Goathland and Jurby chalices; they were also smaller, because the chalice was now withheld from the laity. None the less, the bowl can [5/6] easily now be made larger, and the later Mediaeval chalice is then extremely convenient to handle, as well as of unsurpassed gracefulness in shape. It stands firmly on the altar and is not easily upset, while the knop enables it to be grasped safely both by minister and people, as in the example by Mr. F. Smythe Greenwood. Mediaeval chalices are generally from 5 to 7 inches in height; and about 8 inches is as high as a modern chalice of larger type need be.

At the Reformation a much deeper chalice was used, in order to provide for the large numbers now to be communicated in both kinds. This type continued in use till the Gothic and ecclesiological revival of the Nineteenth Century. It is so familiar still that we will not take up our space with an example. Often of beautiful shape, these [6/7] plain post-reformation chalices are now precious pieces of church plate. Their radical defect however is that they are so deep as to be difficult to wipe dry; and their depth is seldom utilized, as they are not in practice often filled more than about half way. Even quite small chalices such as that by Mr. Wilkins, are in considerable demand, because nowadays there are so many services at earlier hours than usual, and on holy-days and week-days, at which there are not more than a dozen or two communicants. Mr. Wilkins’ chalice is amply sufficient for forty.

The older plan of one general communion three or four times a year required a deep chalice; but nowadays Communion Services are happily more frequent in all churches, and this results in a much greater splitting up of the groups of communicants. Even on Great Festivals they are generally divided by the two or more Celebrations which are usual. Such a chalice as the distinctive and convenient design of Mr. Sedding is therefore large enough in most churches. In town churches the biggest chalice is generally [8/9] supplemented by the use of one or two smaller ones at the most largely attended service. In some, an additional quantity of wine is consecrated in a flagon, such as is still to be found in many places, and the chalice is refilled during the communion from the flagon. Thus in practice great use is made of such small chalices as that (large enough for forty or fifty people) by Mr. Eeles, or the example of my own (large enough for fifty or sixty). This last example shows the cross on the foot of the chalice, a convenient mediaeval tradition, which serves to mark the side of the chalice used in communion.

Patens were originally of enormous size; because all the people brought their little household loaves at the Offertory: all communicated, and the individual consumption, also was larger. We read, for instance, in Ordo Romanus I [9/10]  (c. A.D. 700) that the archdeacon placed the consecrated oblatae in sacks which were held by the subdeacons, and that the acolytes then distributed these sacks among the bishops and priests sitting round the apse, who then at a sign from the pope broke all the loaves in the sacks. This explains the size of the patens given in the fourth century by Constantine to the Lateran, and described in the Liber Pontificalis: they included “7 patens of gold weighing each 30 pounds; 16 patens of silver weighing each 30 pounds,” as well as “40 minor chalices of purest gold weighing each 1 pound,” “50 minor ministerial chalices weighing each 2 pounds,” and “3 golden chalices with emeralds and jacinths, each having 45 gems and weighing 12 pounds.” There was also a golden paten “with a tower” which had 215 pearls, with other [10/11] jewels, and weighed 30 pounds! The earliest extant paten is that of Gourdon, which was found with the Gourdon chalice and fresh coins of Justin I (A.D. 518-527), and may be therefore even earlier than the sixth century. It is of gold and enamel. Patens how ever seem more generally to have been round: that carried by the Emperor Justinian in the mosaic at S. Vitale, Ravenna (sixth century), is a large flat bowl.

The eleventh century patens in the treasury of S. Mark’s, Venice, are round, of crystal, alabaster or other material, rimmed and bound together with precious metal, and sometimes with depressions, and ornamented with a central medallion of enamel. One in the treasury of the Cathedral of Halberstadt (also of about the eleventh century), is of silver heavily embossed [11/14] with a crucifixion in relief, within a medallion with eight lobes, on each of which is a bust of a saint. It must have been almost impossible entirely to remove crumbs from such patens as these. They became plainer as time went on; but right up to the Reformation were still decorated with incised ornament, as in the case of the silver Wyke paten, which is the most ancient piece of church plate known to be in use in this country.

This is on the whole the most useful form of paten at the present day, especially if made with only one circular depression and without ornaments, as in the modern examples shown above. The dish-shaped paten is less convenient, since it easily slips off the chalice.

The Elizabethan paten, and its descendents, had a foot, small enough not to interfere with its lying on the chalice. The foot has disappeared in modern patens,. since it serves no useful purpose and makes the paten less steady. A larger type, the standing paten, is however often found useful as a receptacle for the bread upon the credence.

Lastly, the standing pyx, a further development of the paten into chalice form (sometimes called the ciborium), is very useful where wafer-bread is used, on occasions when there are many communicants, when it is placed on the altar near the chalice. It may also be used, like the standing paten as a receptacle for bread, which is then taken from it to the paten according to the amount required.

The "Fractio Panis."

The Goathland Chalice, c. 1450.

Silver Chalice with Stones. By Mr. F. Smythe Greenwood.

Silver Chalice and Paten. By Mr. A. J. Wilkins.

Silver Chalice and Paten. By the late Mr. G. E. Sedding.

Silver Chalice and Paten, by Mr. F. C. Eeles (F.R.Hist.S.)

Silver Chalice and Paten Studded with Cornelians, by Percy Dearmer.

The Gourdon Paten.

The Wyke Paten, c. 1280.

Standing Paten. By Mr. F. Smythe Greenwood and Mr. Alwyn Watts.

Standing Pyx. By Mr. F. Smythe Greenwood.

Project Canterbury