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More Examples of Ornaments of the Church: Metal Work.

By Percy Dearmer.

London: The Warham Guild, 1929.

There is no dearth at the present day of skilful artificers in every kind of work, as the Arts and Crafts and other Exhibitions have shown us for thirty years past. It would in fact be possible to fill our churches with beautiful things—things worthy to be compared with the treasures of old time. It would be possible, were it not for one difficulty—the client does not know how to find the right artist for the particular work he requires. One of the chief objects, therefore, of the Warham Guild is to co-operate with artists and craftsmen in order that examples of all kinds of work might be constantly on view at the Guild’s headquarters, and to give assurance to parsons, church councils, and donors, that all work ordered through the Guild is produced by trustworthy craftsmen. It does supply the humbler kinds of church work, surplices, and such-like things, which also can be made very beautiful, simple as they are. But it aims [1/2] above all at setting the artists to work in our incomparable parish churches, which, alas! have been so injured by unthinking decoration and bad ornaments during the past eighty years. If this object of the Guild is realized sufficiently by the Church public, a new era may dawn for the Church in this as in other matters.

On the following pages we give a few examples of such ornaments as are easily reproduced in illustration, excluding architectural work as well as the Ornaments of the ministers, which are illustrated in other publications of the Guild.


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IT will perhaps be of interest if we present our examples of Church metal ornaments in their general historical order. The chalice naturally comes first, since it dates from the first century. There actually exists one fresco in which is depicted a chalice of c. 125 A.D. For about six centuries the chalice is represented with two handles, and the Gourdon example, which is the oldest extant example (before 527 A.D.) is of this type. Long before the chalice had been withdrawn from the laity, however, it was found more convenient to [3/4] discard the handles, and to model the knop and stem so it could be most readily and safely grasped.

In the above example this convenient mediaeval pattern is adhered to; the later post-reformation type, with a very deep bowl, being less easy to handle or to cleanse. Most priests find it more convenient to use two chalices when there are over eighty or ninety communicants. The paten is not shown.

The chalice shown below is of silver with carved gold panels, the base set with sapphires and moonstones.

Another Chalice.

Readers are referred to the Warham Guild Booklet, Examples of Chalices and Patens for further illustrations.

The offertory dish is as old, or nearly as old, as the chalice. Indeed, in the second century, if not in the first, the offertory dish and the paten were the same thing: the patens were in fact very large, so as to receive the offerings in kind of the faithful, some of these offerings in the form of small loaves or rolls of bread being set apart for the Eucharist. Many large patens (or as we might say, alms-dishes) were therefore [5/6] used: in the fourth century, as we learn from the Liber Pontificalis, the Emperor Constantine presented to the Lateran basilica ‘7 patens of gold, weighing each 30 pounds; 16 patens of silver, weighing each 30 pounds.' To S. Peter’s he gave a more wonderful paten—'a golden paten with a tower of purest gold, with a dove adorned with emeralds and jacinths and 215 pearls, weighing 30 pounds; 5 patens of silver weighing 15 pounds.’ The work and office of a deacon in those days must have been no sinecure, but perhaps they objected to carrying patens that weighed over thirty pounds.

The alms-dish here shown, designed by the late Mr. G. E. Sedding, is neither of gold nor silver, but of beaten brass, the design representing the Israelites bearing the bunch of grapes from the Promised Land.

Sanctuary Lamp.

Lamps are far older than candlesticks as Church ornaments. Christian devices appear upon clay lamps as early as the end of the third century, but these were probably for domestic use; we do not know about the church use at this time. The Liber Pontificalis gives us the most astonishing information about the hanging lamps and candelabra in the fourth century. The Emperor Constantine gave to the Lateran basilica ‘a chandelier (farus) of purest gold which hung under the ciborium, with 50 dolphins of purest gold, weighing 50 pounds, with chains which weighed 25 pounds.' The single lamps (often made in the form of a fish or dolphin) probably hung down from this great corona. Besides this, under the four arches of the ciborium (the vaulted canopy over the altar) hung ‘4 crowns of purest gold, with 20 dolphins, weighing each 15 pounds. R. de Fleury calculates that there were altogether in the Lateran (including the 45 silver lamps in the nave and the 65 in the aisles) 8,730 separate lights.

How modest we are nowadays, the above simple example shows.

Another Lamp.

THE custom of using lamps rather than candlesticks for the altar continued for a thousand years. In the eleventh century fresco of S. Clement celebrating the Holy Communion (at S. Clement’s, Rome: reproduced in Dr. Dearmer’s The Ornaments of the Ministers, Plate 14, 1920 edition), a circular corona bearing seven lamps hangs from the midst of the ciborium, and four lamps hang at the sides, but there is nothing on the altar except the chalice, paten, and book. The paten in this fresco is of the size usual at the present day.

A Censer.

CENSERS, like sanctuary lamps, are first heard of in the fourth century. Constantine, we learn from the Liber Pontificalis, presented to S. Peter’s ‘a censer (thymiamaterium) of purest gold, adorned on all sides with gems to the number of 60, weighing 15 pounds.’ The Christmas festival was also instituted in the fourth century: if we object to censers on the ground that they are no earlier, we might object to Christmas on the same ground.

We do not know if this censer of Constantine’s was a standing censer or not; but in an ivory relief at Treves, of the sixth century, the spectators wave censers from chains out of the windows, as the Emperor, bishops, and courtiers pass by. In a mosaic at S. Vitale, Ravenna, (sixth century) [9/10] the deacon holds a chained censer. The oldest extant censer is at Mannheim, and is probably also of the sixth century.

The example here shown is of silver.

An Incense Boat and Spoon.

WE do not know in what sort of vessel the incense was carried during the first six centuries. The mediaeval and modern type here represented doubtless owes its survival to its convenience.

A Processional Cross.

We begin to find representations of staves with cross-heads in the sculpture of the fifth century, at first in representations of sacred personages. The custom of carrying a labarum in the army was traditional in the Roman Empire, and passed naturally into church use in the carrying of standards, crosses, and banners of very diverse kinds and shapes, just as churchwardens carry ornamented staves at the present day.

Another Processional Cross.

IN the Middle Ages the processional cross was sometimes taken from its staff and set upon the altar. Thus very slowly there grew up the custom of having an altar-cross—so slowly that it was by no means a general custom by the time of the Reformation, most mediaeval pictures being without it. It is therefore by no means a necessary ornament, common though it is at the present day. When the [12/13] reredos is elaborate, and, as it ought to be, is strictly contiguous with the altar, there is seldom a good place for a cross. But many altars have so gloomy a dorsal that they seem empty without a cross. The place, however, for the cross is over the rood screen.

Cross and Candlesticks.

The processional use of tapers, like that of crosses, is earlier than the fixed use. Sometimes in the Middle Ages the candlesticks were set upon the altar after a procession. A light was required during the Mass, but it was often merely a torch held by the clerk. Up to the Reformation it was common for the light to be thus held, or for two lights to be held by servers, or even by the deacon and [13/14]subdeacon. But it was obviously more convenient for the lights not to be held, and so gradually the custom gained ground of placing one light or two in candlesticks and setting them on the altar. But still, before the Reformation, the older tradition survived, in the candlesticks being put away out of service time. At the present day it is the general and convenient practice to keep the two candlesticks permanently on the holy table.

Silver Lavabo Bowl.

THE custom of washing the hands before celebrating is ancient, though not much is known about the methods in earlier times. It is important from every point of view that the priest should wash his hands before touching the bread and the vessels, and communicating the people.

This bowl is a beautiful and fitting example of a memorial of inexpensive character.

Churchwarden's Mace.

The good old custom of the churchwardens carrying staves at the head of processions never quite died out, and many fine examples of silver staff-heads exist in the City churches. Nothing makes such a good head to a procession as a group consisting of the verger carrying a shorter mace, followed by the churchwardens with staves long enough to touch the ground. The verger’s mace is shorter and with a lighter ornamental head, because it is used a good deal more than those of the wardens.

Churchwardens’ maces can be of a still heavier and more elaborate type, such as the silver mace illustrated in the English Churchman's Kalendar for 1915 (April leaf).

This very handsome silver mace was made by the Guild for Derby Cathedral.

THIS staff-head in copper, designed for a church dedicated to S. Peter, may be taken as a normal type of the more handy form used by vergers, just as No. 12 may be taken as an example of a warden's staff-head.

Flower Vases.

Flower vases can hardly be considered ecclesiastical ornaments in the technical sense at all, since it cannot be claimed for them that they are covered by the Ornaments Rubric. The use of flowers and greenery in church is indeed both beautiful and traditional, but the use of flowers on the altar itself is less easy to justify, and would probably have never come in unless the gorgeous low reredoses of the Middle Ages had been destroyed. It may even be said that flowers may be put anywhere in church, but that one of the last places to be chosen should be the altar.

When they are so used, they should at least be fresh, and should be removed when Sunday is over. The spectacle [18/19] of an altar covered with decaying petals is not a pleasant one. In most churches there are many better places for flowers in vases, such as a niche by the door, ledges, or a little table, in the aisles, or the rood screen, stalls, credence, or sills or ledges near the altar.

These vases in silver pierced, are well shaped, with a crystal inner vase to hold flowers properly.

An Aumbrey Door.

An aumbrey is not of course necessarily for Reservation, and may be used for keeping any objects of value. But where Reservation is allowed under episcopal license, it must be in an aumbrey, according to the decision of the Convocations and Church Assembly. It is of considerable importance that the door, being the visible part of the aumbrey, should be dignified and noble in appearance, and free from ill-placed ornament. This door, of bronze with a silver surround and silver decoration, may suggest the ideal we have in mind. The cupboard itself, of which this is the door, is made of steel, lined with cedar-wood.

Altar Cruet.

A FLAGON is traditionally used for holding the wine before it is poured into the chalice for Holy Communion. When there are not many communicants it is more convenient to use a comparative small cruet; and, when the extremely ancient custom of adding water to the wine is followed, a second cruet is needed for the water. If these are made of glass, they can easily be kept completely clean. The cruets may be plain glass-stoppered bottles, or, as here, of glass with silver base, mount, and handles. This cruet is eight inches high from base to lip.

Font Ewer.

SINCE the Reformation, the Prayer Book has required the custom—far more cleanly and significant than the older use—of pouring water into the font fresh for each service. As this is best done immediately before the opening address, the ewer thus assumes some liturgical importance. This example is two feet high, of bronze, lined with tin. It could also be made of brass.

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