Table of Contents
Shrines-Crozier and Crook-Cup or Chalice-Patens-Flagons and Cruets-Alms Dishes-Censers and the like. THE story of ecclesiastical plate is chiefly historical, and the vessels are regarded as a whole rather than individually. Each object, however, has its separate use, and the form, size and ornament of church plate has ever varied in accord with the accepted purposes of its use, which has changed from time to time. Church ornament is regarded as of the highest importance, for it is symbolical of the creeds and doctrines taught. The frequent use of certain symbols in architecture, plate and decoration confirms the story of prevailing beliefs of any given period ; and the engraving and other plans of decoration are often enough to indicate the period of their use, and possibly of their place of origin. To understand church plate properly some enquiry must be made into the actual purposes of the vessels used in ceremonial worship, and also of those consecrated to the purposes of altar ornamentation. There was a time when there was a very free use of silver in ornamenting churches, abbeys and cathedrals. The remarkable find of ancient silver on Mr. A. J. Balfour's Whittinghame estate some little time ago contained very beautiful objects of plate supposed to have been deposited there in the days when Britain was subjected to the raids of pirates, who sometimes regarded it as a safe burying place of stolen treasure, just as this country has in later days been the refuge of men and women persecuted for religion. Among the silver in this recent find in Scotland were many pieces indicating by their ornamentation that they had been taken from some ancient Continental establishment, and by their acquisition and exhibition the Scottish museums and those who frequent them will benefit. The enrichment of shrines, tombs, altars and relics of saints and former ecclesiastics was indulged in when religious fervour was often attributable to superstitious motives. In mediaeval days pilgrims and patrons were lavish in their gifts to the most noted shrines. The crozier of the archbishop and the crook of the bishop were large and heavy, and processional crosses were resplendent with jewels. The altar candlesticks were triumphs of the metal worker's art, and the altar crosses or the chrismatory were ablaze with jewels. The vessels used in the sacred rites have distinct functions and their meaning and uses can be understood, although many of the once rare and costly treasures of the church have from one cause or another disappeared from worship and become antique relics of former days-curiosities only.