The Lacock Cup, an exceptional medieval silver chalice, has been acquired by the British Museum for £1.3m. The cup is unmarked, but has been dated by its style to around 1429 and was probably produced in London. The cup began life as a status symbol for a nobleman’s table, but became a became a chalice when it was presented 400 years ago to St Cyriac’s church in the Wiltshire village of Lacock. It has survived the Reformation and the English Civil War and is of international importance on account of its rarity.
A similar cup is depicted the east window at the church of St Peter and St Paul in East Harling, Norfolk, in a scene depicting the wedding at Cana [Fig. 1]. Contemporary images show such precious objects among the gifts brought by the magi to the stable in Bethlehem. The Lacock Cup was beaten by hand from three sheets of silver, and three bands of ornate pierced decoration cover the welds that join the bowl and the two sections of the trumpet-shaped foot. The gilding on the ornamental bands and the lip and foot of the cup is original [Fig. 2].
Too valuable to insure, display or store in the grade I listed church of St Cyriac, the cup was loaned to the British Museum in 1963. For a time, it was regularly couriered back to Wiltshire for Christmas and Easter, but this was ultimately deemed too risky, and the cup is now on display at the museum. The church decided to sell the cup to raise funds for repair and restoration work to the building, but the decision was not unanimous; members of the congregation believed the cup was a vital part of the village’s heritage and opposed the sale. However, permission was sought from an ecclesiastical consistory court to sell the cup, and money to purchase it was raised with grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund charity, and friends and patrons. The British Museum is sharing the acquisition with the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. Identical copies of the cup will be produced for the Wiltshire Museum and St Cyriac’s Church, which will once again have a magnificent silver goblet for communion services.
The Lacock Cup is on public display in the Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery of Medieval Europe 1050–1500, Room 40.