A Striking Chalice: Once Lost, Now Found

There’s nothing like procrastination to prompt a blog post.

Yet this post obeys the adage, carpe diem. For yesterday I discovered a chalice we had feared lost. It belonged to our Fr Terence who died last October after years battling cancer. He came as close to peace as he ever did in his last year, and he died well-prepared for his encounter face to face with Christ. As a young monk he was at the vanguard of the reformers in the 1960s, and until the end he gave short shrift to liturgical or theological recidivism. He was a Vatican II priest of a particular stamp, and his hopes had been pinned on the Council unreservedly. His faith was not feigned and his commitment was utterly sincere.

When it came to preparing for his funeral I sought for his ordination chalice, a striking piece of 1960s contemporary liturgical art which we had not used for some time at the monastery due to its impracticality. It eluded discovery, even beyond his funeral. Indeed only yesterday did I find it. Something moved me to check the storage space above the vestment press. As I shoved the two funeral/profession palls to allow my hands some access I heard an unexpected sound. Heaving the palls to the side I found a chalice box. Low and behold, Fr Terence’s chalice. It seems it was pushed out of sight by the palls.

Fr Terence was ordained to the priesthood on 11 May 1961. His ordination chalice is worthy of some attention even if it is not to the taste of all. It was made for his ordination by Meinrad Burch-Korrodi in Zurich. It cost his family £300, which equates to £6239.20 in today’s money. This was no off-the-shelf number from St Paul’s Bookshop. Meinrad Burch-Korrodi (1897-1978) was a Swiss goldsmith of international renown. After an apprenticeship in Lucerne he moved to London to perfect his skills at The London Central School of Arts and Crafts, working for the some of the exclusive shops on Bond Street. In 1924 he moved to New York for further experience and in 1925 he returned to Europe – first to Paris, then back home to Lucerne and finally to Zurich where his workshop became renowned.

The chalice was the favoured piece in his workshop. Some stunning examples can be found by a simple Google search. But this chalice you will not find; well, not until now.

Fr Terence’s chalice is enamelled gilt sterling. It has a large bowl, 12.5cm in diameter, and 7.5cm at its deepest (5 inches by 3 inches). This sounds the ideal size for allowing the administration of the chalice to the congregation, but there is no knop, and the base is very short. Given that most people take the chalice into their own hands when receiving the Blood in the UK, this chalice is extremely awkward to hand over and receive back, and I recall a persistent fear of disaster. This is its Achilles’ heel.

But as a work of art it is most striking, as the photos below will show, even if poor quality ones taken on my phone in a crude faux studio on top of my desk. The enamel has such a dazzling shine that it is difficult to get a shot without glare.

Also included in the photos below are Mr Burch-Korrodi’s instructions for the care of the chalice, as well as an interesting little note found in the chalice box that details the “rubrics” to be followed at the parish church at Petersfield in Hampshire (Fr Terence was posted in the second half of the 60s to our preparatory school, Ditcham Park, in Petersfield. The fathers there assisted the local PP, who was suffering from leukaemia). Clearly it was a time of liturgical flux and this little set of liturgical notes gives an insight into what a parish church at the time would have been enduring.

The last picture is of another of Burch-Korrodi’s chalices, similar in basic style and included for comparison purposes. Sadly, we do not have this second chalice!

It would be interesting to have Fr Terence’s chalice valued. I suspect that while its liturgical worth, in practical terms, is not very high, its material and artistic worth is considerable. It will not be left lying around again.

If you click on a picture you will be able to see it larger, and also find a link to see it in full size.

14 thoughts on “A Striking Chalice: Once Lost, Now Found

  1. Oh, thank you for sharing! I’ve never seen anything like that….and, as you say, it is worth seeing even though it is not to my taste either! The cleaning instructions remind me of a horrible tale. Our former pastor has the most gorgeous gold-plated chalice – or, let’s say it was gold plated until the sacristan took a brillo pad to it.

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    1. Annie – my jaw literally dropped when I read the end of your comment. I hope the sacristan repented and did penance, because there is a special place in hell for those who commit such atrocities! Pax.

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  2. It’s lovely Father—and the memories that it holds are equally as lovely—with the recent passing of my father-n-law, who was the furthermost thing from a priest let along religious sort…we are finding, as we begin the long sad task of sorting, a few most special treasures ourselves—
    Perhaps the monastery will choose to use Fr Terence’s chalice on some special day that was important to him….
    happy rummaging Father–
    love from Georgia
    Julie

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    1. That is lateral thinking! Still it would need to have sympathetic chalices otherwise it will dominate the altar. Of course we could use it for the odd smaller scale Mass; it would be fine for concelebrants to use at the altar.

      Pax!

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  3. As a former insurance claims manager, loss adjuster, Sacristan and MC I think it would be safe to estimate the insurance value at between £8,000 – £15,000 depending on the “real life” quality (as opposed to photo valuation).

    A collector of Burch-K may be willing to part with more and of course with all the items in the chalice case it’s entirely possible it would fetch even more if you were to consider a sale. I would suggest though that it be cared for somewhere that it can be appreciated much like treasured vestments.

    Many people ask about the job of a Sacristan – I always say the job is to find all the things that have been hidden since V2.

    given the value it may be worth having a formal valuation carried out – if you contact ecclesiastical insurance they can put you in touch with a specialist valuer

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    1. I like your definition of a sacristan: I may have to steal it! 😉 We have plans to build a proper sacristy, and when that comes about I hope to have a display area where some of our more interesting items can be seen and appreciated. While some things are not practical for everyday liturgy it does seem a shame for sacred vessels and vestments to be locked away in archives, however good that storage might be.

      Pax!

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  4. Father, while the chalice is not traditional in design, I think it is absolutely beautiful, and definitely a work of art of a very high order indeed. It is absolutely unique!

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