Friday, 8 March 2013

Overview to the Altar Plates

Gold Chalices and Patens, The gold chalice and paten of c.1661 were supplied for the coronation of Charles IL The second gold chalice and paten and the small gold paten, are of a later date, before 1688, and were most probably made for James, Duke of York, later James II.
Much of the altar plate in the Jewel House is used for the coronation ceremony, either displayed on the altar in Westminster Abbey or beneath the Royal Gallery on the south side of the Sanctuary.

A large quantity of royal plate had been sold off by Charles I in the 1630s and 1640s in order to raise funds and many more pieces were lost during the Commonwealth. When Charles II regained the throne an enormous quantity of plate was required, both for his coronation and own personal use. Between 1660 and 1663 over £30,000 was paid to the royal goldsmith, Sir Robert Viner, for supplying almost two tons of new plate for the King. 
Much of the altar plate in the Jewel House is used for the coronation ceremony, either displayed on the altar in Westminster Abbey or beneath the Royal Gallery on the south side of the Sanctuary.


A large quantity of royal plate had been sold off by Charles I in the 1630s and 1640s in order to raise funds and many more pieces were lost during the Commonwealth. When Charles II regained the throne an enormous quantity of plate was required, both for his coronation and own personal use. Between 1660 and 1663 over £30,000 was paid to the royal goldsmith, Sir Robert Viner, for supplying almost two tons of new plate for the King.

Chalices and Patens


Altar Dish, 1664. The royal aims depicted at the top right of the dish are those of James. Duke of York, later James H. An almost identical dish made for Charles II in 1660 is in use at the Chapel Royal, St James's Palace.
All the plate on display is of silver-gilt except five communion vessels which are gold. The chalice and paten of c.1661 were ordered for the coronation of Charles II. The second gold chalice and paten and the small gold paten date before 1688. All are engraved with the arms of William and Mary.


Altar Dishes Also on display are a number of large altar dishes including the magnificent dish of 1664 which forms the centerpiece on the High Altar at Westminster Abbey during the coronation ceremony. This dish was made by the London goldsmith Henry Greenaway and is one of the largest surviving altar dishes of the period being some 37.57 (94.6cm) in diameter and weighing 414oz 10dwt (12.89kg). The scene portrayed on the dish is a representation of The Last Supper and the four panels on the border depict The Washing of the Apostles' Feet, The Walk to Emmaus, Christ's Commission to the Apostles and The Coming of the Holy Ghost.

Altar Dish, 1664. The royal aims depicted at the top right of the dish are those of James. Duke of York, later James H. An almost identical dish made for Charles II in 1660 is in use at the Chapel Royal, St James's Palace.
The altar dish and flagon of 1691 were made for the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London and are still used in the Chapel each Christmas, Easter and Whitsun. The dish, made by Francis Garthorne and the flagon, by St John Hoyte, were delivered to the Constable of the Tower, Lord Lucas in 1693. Both pieces were used at the coronation of George IV and have been used at all subsequent coronations.

The display also includes a number of flagons made for Charles II including a pair of feathered flagons, dating from 1664 (whose design may have derived from vessels known to have been in Henry collection); and a pair of large silver-gilt candlesticks, c.1661, decorated with flowers and foliage which were used at the lying-in-state of Edward VII at Buckingham Palace in 1910.

Pair of Altar CandlesticksB.C.1661. These large silver-gilt candlesticks measure some 37" in height and together weigh 408oz 7dwt (12.79kg).

The Maundy Dish, 1660

The Maundy Dish is used by the Sovereign on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter), for the distribution of monetary gifts to a selected group of elderly people. The ceremony commemorates that part of the Last Supper where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and commanded them to love one another. A form of the ceremony has been known in England since about the 6th century but from the late 17th century up until 1931, the monarch played no active role in the service and the Maundy was distributed by the Lord High Almoner

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From the reign of Edward 111 (1327-1377) up until the 19th century, the provision of a meal, and the distribution of gifts of food and clothing formed a traditional part of the ceremony. The washing of the feet of t he poor was also a central part of the service up until the early 18th century. Today the recipients receive gifts of modern money and specially minted Maundy Money. The Maundy Money consists of one, two, three and four pence pieces in silver, which are the only silver coins still made. Since the reign of Henry VI (1422-1461), the number of recipients of the Maundy gifts has been related to the Sovereign's age at the time of the ceremony; the number of coins they receive is also related to the Sovereign's age

Pair of Flagons 1664, These flagons, together with the pair of 1660, are the largest surviving examples of English flagons. They have an overall height of 20.2" (52cm) and together weigh 4200; (13.06kg). The circular panels on the front of the flagons are engraved with the Stuart arms..
The money is held in white and red leather purses carried on dishes by Yeomen of the Guard. A pair of altar dishes, 'c.1661, are used to supplement the Maundy Dish. The centre of each dish is decorated with a crowned rose surrounded by freshwater fish, on one dish, and saltwater varieties on the other. As the service takes place at a different cathedral each year the 'freshwater dish' is used at inland cathedrals and the 'saltwater dish' at coastal ones.

 Writer – Simon Thurley

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