Medieval chalice sold for £1.3m

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Gavel resting on wood table.

A silver medieval chalice donated to a church more than 400 years ago has been sold for £1.3 million.

The Lacock Cup, which dates back to the 1400s, is described by experts as "one of the most significant pieces" of secular English medieval silver.


It has been owned by the church of St Cyriac in Lacock, Wiltshire, and used by the congregation for the past 400 as a chalice in certain religious festivals.

Lacock Parochial Church Council and Lacock Parish Council decided to sell the cup to fund much needed repairs to the church's roof.

However, some residents of the village opposed the sale - though it was later ruled as justified and allowed to go ahead by a consistory court.

The cup has been jointly acquired by the British Museum and Wiltshire Museum after an appeal that received contributions from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund and private donations.

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said: "I am delighted that this beautiful and rare cup has been acquired so that it can continue to be enjoyed by visitors to the British Museum as well as in Wiltshire Museum alongside important pieces from Lacock and the medieval period."

The Lacock Cup is an English sliver and partially gilded drinking cup, which has a "stunning piece of craftsmanship and a unique history", a spokeswoman for the British Museum said.

In the medieval period, the cup was used for feasting. It is decorated, formed of hammered sheet silver and edged with gothic motifs and twisted rope-work which has been gilded.

The cup became a chalice for communion wine in a Protestant church in the post-Reformation era.

"The dual roles of this piece, as feasting cup and holy chalice, offer a window on to the turbulence of the Reformation, when long held traditions as reflected in art were transformed under successive Protestant and Catholic monarchs," the spokeswoman added.

"It encapsulates a rich array of practices, historical shifts, and both human and divine associations."

This type of cup is known to be popular in the late Middle Ages but most examples were destroyed due to changing fashions - leaving few remaining.

The cup's donation as a chalice to the Church of St Cyriac enabled it to survive and it is is "near perfect condition" today, despite having a central role in the Wiltshire community.

In 1963 the cup was loaned to the British Museum though it continued to return to the church to be used as a chalice until the 1980s.

The cup's insurance was then deemed too expensive and it was returned to the British Museum. The church, where the Duchess of Cornwall's daughter Laura Lopes married in May 2006, offered to sell the cup to the museum in January 2013.

The cup will now be displayed in the British Museum's Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery of Medieval Europe 1050-1500 along with other artefacts from the period, such as the Royal Gold Cup and The Lewis Chessman.

Two replicas of the cup will be created - one will go on display in the Wiltshire Museum's Medieval Gallery while the other will be used at the Church of St Cyriac's in Lacock.

David Dawson, director of the Wiltshire Museum, said "It is a privilege to be working with the British Museum to jointly acquire this important cup.

"We are planning to improve our displays so that we can showcase the cup in a special exhibition so that people from Lacock and Wiltshire can see the cup locally for the first time in many years."

Former church warden, Dr John Catchpole of Lacock Parochial Church Council said the funds raised would be used to repair the church.

"The Church plans to invest the proceeds of the sale to generate income to help to maintain and repair the beautiful grade one listed church of St Cyriac's in Lacock as a place of worship for future generations, and are delighted that the British Museum and Wiltshire Museum will now share this unique cup," Dr Catchpole said.