"Breathtakingly rare" late Middle Age feasting cup and chalice to go on national tour

By Ben Miller | 11 January 2015

Post-Reformation communion cup is quiet survivor of turbulent times, say experts

A photo of a large cylindrical silver cup with gold tinges and a circular golden top
The Lacock Cup, plain and gilded silver, England (15th century)© 2014 The Trustees of the British Museum
Sometime during the 15th century, a mystery craftsman fashioned nearly 1kg of silver bullion into a feasting cup for a high-ranking nobleman, gilded at the base and top lid with an astonishingly smooth hammered surface at the peak of its 35 centimetres.

Known as the Lacock Cup, curators say this “breathtakingly rare” solid silver vessel possesses a “timeless simplicity”. Also used as a holy chalice, its unlikely survival provides all the more reason for history fans to visit the work when it embarks on a five-venue tour from the British Museum, starting at the Salisbury Museum at the end of this month.

A photo of a small ornate crucifix
Limoges Enamelled Crucifix (13th century)© Salisbury Museum
“Late Middle Age drinking cups are so rare because most were melted down as fashions changed,” says Adrian Green, the Director of the museum, observing the “heart-stopping beauty” of an internationally-significant exhibit.

“This one was gifted to the Church of St Cyriac in the village of Lacock, Wiltshire, immediately after the reformation and served as a sacred communion cup there for over 400 years.

“Thus it quietly survived the turbulent reformation, when most church silver was confiscated, and avoided the notice of reformers.”

The British Museum and the Wiltshire Museum bought the cup in 2013, backed by groups including the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund. Its display in Salisbury, which was known for its silver production during the Middle Ages, will be a fitting one, accompanied by a series of comparison pieces loaned to the museum.

“This uniquely English object is closely tied to Wiltshire, and to start the cup’s Spotlight Tour in its home county is an exciting opportunity,” says Naomi Speakman, of the British Museum.

“Visitors will be able to compare the vessel to medieval and post-medieval objects, allowing wider stories about the Lacock Cup to be discovered.”

  • Secular to Sacred: The Story of the Lacock Cup is at the Salisbury Museum from January 31 – May 4 2015, then Palace Green Library, Durham, June 1 – August 31; Norfolk Museum and Archaeology Service, October 2015 – January 2016 (TBC); Nottingham Castle Museum, Nottingham, February – April 2016 (TBC).

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A close-up photo of a large circular golden coin with an inscription and jagged edges
Gold coin of the Crown of the Double Rose of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon© Salisbury Museum
A close-up photo of a large circular golden coin with an inscription and jagged edges
The coin was minted between 1526 and 1533© Salisbury Museum
A photo of a silver chalice carved into the shape of a crown-wearing woman with child
Pilgrim Badge portraying Our Lady of Tombelaine, pewter (early 15th century)© Salisbury Museum
A photo of a tall silver cup on a plinth with a large circular chalice and gold inside
Chalice from St Mary's Church, Codford, Wiltshire (late 15th century). Silver parcel-gilt© Peter Marsh
A photo of a tall silver cup on a plinth with a large circular chalice and gold inside
Chalice from Wylye Church, Wiltshire (16th century). Silver gilt© Peter Marsh
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