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Friday, January 30, 2015

The Ardagh Chalice

The Ardagh Chalice




This must surely be one of the most beautiful chalices in the world. It is called the "Ardagh Chalice" after the place in Ireland near where it was found in 1868.  Standing 17.8 cm high and 19.5 cm in diameter excluding the handles, it belongs to the 8th Century. Its shape echoes ancient Roman tableware, but its decoration could not be more exquisitely Irish or Celtic.

We see the wonderful contrast between the polished silver and the intricate gold ornamentation. Closer examination of the gold work reveals stylised beasts and beautifully engraved lettering that spells out the names of the Apostles. Studs of red enamel and blue glass further enrich this Eucharistic cup.

It can now be viewed in the National Museum of Ireland. What is of interest for us is that the size of the chalice, as well as its handles, is evidence of a Eucharistic cup designed for the Faithful and not for the priest alone. Communion under both kinds is not "something new" introduced by the Second Vatican Council. For centuries, our Celtic ancestors in faith saw communion from the chalice as normal.

What is of special interest is the supply of wine from the vineyards of Europe to the churches of Ireland, Iona and elsewhere. How were the casks of wine transported?

Who were the middlemen? Could supply be always guaranteed, in time of war or of Viking attack, for example? This would make a fascinating PhD thesis, but as is often the case we will probably find that some academic has already dealt with it!