Of all the vessels created for the celebration of Catholic and Anglican Eucharistic traditions, chalices embody the doctrines and liturgical practices of their respective churches.

The Catholic church stipulated that chalices should be made of precious metals because, according to the doctrine of the Real Presence, they were repositories for Christ’s blood. The chalice’s shape safeguarded its divine content: the broad polylobe base ensured its stability, and a smooth rim reduced the danger of drips. The knop in the middle of the stem provided added security for the priest as he raised the chalice above his head to mark the moment of the wine’s transubstantiation.

By the 14th century, Mass had evolved into more of a spectacle than a participatory rite; indeed, the medieval congregant received the consecrated host only once a year and never drank from the chalice. Protestant churches restored the cup to the people, who were expected to take communion regularly. To signify its repudiation of Catholic Eucharistic “superstitions,” the Anglican church systematically melted medieval chalices in the 1560s and 1570s, refashioning them into “decent communion cups.” Their forms were modeled on domestic drinking vessels such as covered, stemmed beakers. The readoption of the medieval form in the 19th century, as seen in the A. W. N. Pugin's chalice, signifies a revival of medieval Eucharistic practices by movements within both Catholic and Anglican churches.

Jonathan Canning
Martin D’Arcy Curator, Loyola University Museum of Art

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Model Chalice, c. 1849. Manufacturered by John Hardman and Co. (English, founded 1838). England, Birmingham. Bessie Bennett Endowment.