Silver medieval chalice donated to Wiltshire church 400 years ago

Wiltshire Times: Lacock Cup, which dates from the 1400s, has been sold for £1.3 million to help pay for maintenance work at St Cyriac's Church Lacock Cup, which dates from the 1400s, has been sold for £1.3 million to help pay for maintenance work at St Cyriac's Church

The Lacock Cup, one of the most significant pieces of secular English medieval silver, has been bought by the British Museum and Wiltshire Museum for £1.3 million.

Dating from the mid 15th century, the Lacock Cup is an English silver and partially gilded drinking cup which has been owned by the Church of St Cyriac in Lacock, and used by its congregation for more than 400 years.

It has been on loan to the British Museum since 1963 and until the 1980s continued to return to the church to be used as a chalice for religious festivals.

In January 2013, St Cyriac's Church in Lacock offered the Lacock Cup for sale to the British Museum for the price of £1.3 million.

A fundraising appeal was launched and the target for acquiring the cup has now been reached by contributions from National Heritage Memorial Fund (£650,000), John Studzinski (£200,000), The Art Fund (£150,000) and the remaining funds from the British Museum’s internal resources, the British Museum Friends, the American Friends of the British Museum and additional contributions.

The cup is now on display in the British Museum’s Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery of Medieval Europe alongside treasures from the period such as the Royal Gold Cup and the Lewis Chessmen.

Two replicas of the cup will be created and one will go on display in the Wiltshire Museum Medieval Gallery, alongside other items from Lacock, and the other replication will be given to the Church of Saint Cyriac’s in Lacock for liturgical use.

Wiltshire Museum, in Devizes, did not provide any funding for the acquisition but helped with applications for grant funding.

The museum is home to the best Bronze Age archaeology collection in Britain, drawn from the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site, and the collections are designated by the Government as being of national significance.

David Dawson, director of Wiltshire Museum, said it was a coup for the museum to be jointly involved with the British Museum on the acquisition.

He said: “It is a privilege to be working with the British Museum to jointly acquire this important cup.

"This is the first time they have bought an object with a small, independent museum and it recognises the importance of both the Lacock Cup and the Wiltshire Museum.”

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said: “I am delighted that this beautiful and rare cup has been acquired so that it can continue to be enjoyed by visitors to the British Museum as well as in Wiltshire Museum alongside important pieces from Lacock and the Medieval period.”

Dr John Catchpole, of Lacock Parochial Church Council, said: “The church plans to invest the proceeds of the sale to generate income to help to maintain and repair the beautiful grade I listed church of St Cyriac's in Lacock as a place of worship for future generations, and are delighted that the British Museum and Wiltshire Museum will now share this unique cup."

Dame Jenny Abramsky, who chairs the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “The Lacock Cup is an exceptional piece of silverware which encapsulates a number of fascinating stories relating to medieval history, including the brutal Reformation period.

"There was absolutely no doubt in our minds that the National Heritage Memorial Fund should step in to fund this rare and beautiful chalice cup.

“Now it has been successfully acquired by the British Museum and Wiltshire Museum, it will become a key part of their collections and will also be loaned out so the maximum number of people can enjoy it.”

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said: “We’re so pleased to have helped the British Museum and the Wiltshire Museum jointly acquire the Lacock cup after 51 years on loan in Bloomsbury.

"Thanks to both museums' strong network of national programme activity, this exquisite and important work of medieval silverware will be seen across the UK in the years to come.”

The Lacock Cup is a stunning piece of craftsmanship and has a unique history. In the medieval period the Cup was used for feasting.

The cup is elegantly decorated, formed of hammered sheet silver, edged with gothic motifs and twisted ropework which has been gilded.

In the post-Reformation era, the cup became a sacred vessel: a chalice for communion wine in a Protestant church.

The dual roles of this piece, as feasting cup and holy chalice, offer a window onto the turbulence of the Reformation, when long held traditions as reflected in art were transformed under successive Protestant and Catholic monarchs.

It encapsulates a rich array of practices, historical shifts, and both human and divine associations.

While this cup is of a type known to be popular in the late Middle Ages, most examples were destroyed due to changing fashions and consequently few pieces remain.

It was the cup’s donation as a chalice to the church that enabled it to survive destruction. The cup is in near perfect condition today, despite its central role in the community.

A spokeswoman for the British Museum said: "Most examples were destroyed due to changing fashions and consequently few pieces remain."

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