HOLY RELICS

Before considering the purposes of modern church plate it is well to remember that the earliest things of value are frequently associated with what were at the time of their manufacture regarded as relics of great importance and virtue. The fear of sacrilege kept away thieves and robbers and prevented violent seizure of things entrusted to the priests in times of stress and riot. The veneration of relics-right or wrong, wise or unwise has preserved such things and their shrines for future generations. Such relics of saints and martyrs are still numerous and have usually been enshrined in suitable cases of gold and silver, often set with priceless jewels. Many of the older relics are associated according to tradition with the Apostles, and a few with Our Lord Himself. Before considering Christian relics, however, we must remember that the older religions of the world had their images of silver and gold, and many vessels used in the rites their priests performed. Pagan deities had many altars, and in museums are to be seen statuettes of ancient Greek goddesses. Eastern nations and savage tribes had their idols and at an early time the Jews and those nations with whom they came in contact possessed Holy relics, safeguarded and preserved for their temple worship. Prominent among these relics were the golden Candlesticks already mentioned as being part of the treasure carried to Rome after the sack of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple. During the days of Roman ascendency in Britain pagan worship of many gods prevailed, and some time elapsed before the acceptance of the religion of Christ and the creation and adaptation of vessels to its use. It is at this point that the story of church plate begins to evolve from the shadowy land of myth and tradition. It is proper that some mention of the first vessel associated with the most sacred rite of the Christian church should prefix more definite records of such things. The stories associated with the Cup used by Our Lord himself in the rite he instituted are naturally only traditional, yet those that have been handed down, doubtless, had some basis of fact in their first inception. The Quest of the Holy Grail may have been a vain one, but it was one favoured in the days of chivalry by our own mythical King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. One story has it that the Holy Grail was long preserved in the church of St. Lawrence at Genoa. As it has been stated in a previous chapter the original cup was probably an ordinary food vessel. Legend, however, says that this cup of green stone was the veritable cup presented by the Queen of Sheba to Solomon, thus linking up Our Lord with the House of David. Of these myths there is no proof ; from whence this cup was derived in the days of the Crusaders is not clear, it reached Genoa at the close of the twelfth century and was long kept in a metal box-no mortal hand touched it when it was raised with silken cords by the Archbishop who held it up for adoration.

There is the British legend, too, immortalised by Tennyson, in which Arthur went in quest of the Holy Grail. It seems well that there should be no proven relics of the Son of God when on earth, and that church vessels should be retained for use and in fulfilment of holy rites, not as objects of veneration.