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Out of the question: Mysterious spoon

19 October 2011

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.

Your answers

Why would a small Herefordshire church (St Michael’s, Hope Mansell) in 1865 have obtained a handsome “Eucharistic Spoon” (thus it is listed in the inventory)? Even supposing that the intention had been to introduce communion in the Eastern manner, the spoon (almost as large as a tablespoon) would barely fit in the narrow chalice. Possible use for oil or water would seem to be precluded by the cross-shaped hole in the bowl, through which any liquid would immediately run out. It is a memorial gift, but the inscription gives only initials.

First, is it hallmarked? Therefore it could be dated, and thus some idea of the use could be understood. I would, however, refer the questioner to the late Charles Oman’s book English Church Plate, which explores the use of spoons in the com­munion service.

Looking at the published photograph, however, I wonder whether the cross has been cut out of a spoon at a much later date (prior to the gift in 1865).

Without actually seeing the spoon, it is impossible to give any true comment, but any indication of a maker’s mark within the hallmark, together with the date, would really help.
N. Bumphrey (Newark Diocesan Adviser for Church Plate)

My guess is that the spoon was designed to remove foreign objects (such as flies or specks of plaster) from the wine in the chalice. When I lived in Cambridge, 1976-88, and worshipped at Holy Trinity, it was normal practice that when the communion table was laid (before the service began) just such a spoon was included among the vessels, except that, as I recall, it was a rather more elaborate spoon and perforated. The point, of course, is that the wine drains away while the foreign object remains.

I also recall once taking a group of students to worship with a Mar Thoma congregation in London, and was surprised, delighted, and then alarmed to be invited to assist with the administration of the chalice. The priest explained that the wine was administered direct into the mouth of each com­mun-icant with a spoon. I had visions of making a complete mess, but discovered, having watched his demonstration, that it was sur­prisingly easy, flicking the spoon over sideways.(Canon) Michael Sansom
Bovey Tracey

Might it have been used to practise intinction, which doesn’t work very well with ordinary bread? You could put a piece of bread in it, lower it into the chalice, and then administer the bread and wine together.
Stephen Bowen

Your questions

St Luke tells us that he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning”. Is it possible that he interviewed Mary in person? C. C.

Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question, Church Times, 13-17 Long Lane, London EC1A 9PN.



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