THE Consistory Court of the diocese of Bristol has granted a
faculty that permits the sale of a rare silver cup that can no
longer be used as a chalice or displayed in church owing to the
prohibitive cost of insuring it (
News, 2 October 2009). The petitioners for the faculty were the
Revd Sally Wheeler, former Team Vicar in the Greater Corsham and
Lacock ministry, and two churchwardens.
Between 1400 and 1450, a silver cup was created for domestic
use. Its precise movements are unknown, but between 1621 and 1636
it was given to St Cyriac's, Lacock, almost certainly by Sir Robert
Baynard. The cup survived the destruction of church silverware in
the 1540s, and was adopted during or after the Reformation for use
in communion. It was, "with Protestant simplicity", commonly known
as the Lacock cup.
The Victoria and Albert Museum's catalogue for its exhibition
"Gothic: Art for England 1400-1547" des-cribed it as "one of the
most beautiful pieces of medieval plate" in existence.
It was used as a chalice at St Cyriac's from the early part of
the 17th century to about 1962, when it was loaned to the British
Museum. It remained there, apart from unrecorded and periodic
returns to the church at Easter and Christmas, up to about 1981,
and a brief sojourn at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was felt
that the value of the cup, and the attendant cost of providing
adequate security and insurance cover, precluded its return to St
Cyriac's even for those few services.
The British Museum indicated that it would like to buy the cup
for £1,300,000. Its estimated value under the Government indemnity
scheme had risen to £2,200,000. The petitioners applied for a
faculty for the cup to be sold and the proceeds invested in a
charitable trust that would be made available to help fund the
necessary repairs and maintenance to the fabric of the church.
They pointed out that the cup was covered for £2,200,000, and
that that valuation rendered the cup liturgically redundant as
there was no possibility of the parish's being able to meet any of
the attendant security measures that would be attached to insurance
premiums, in the event of the cup's being returned to them on a
temporary or full-time basis.
The sole opponent to the petition was a former member of the
PCC, Geoffrey Fox. He accused the petitioners of making efforts "to
avoid finding out the true extent and nature of local feeling
against" the sale of the cup, of having little or no "liturgical
taste", and of regarding the cup as "an embarrassment".
The evidence from the insurers was that they preferred the cup
not to be used or displayed at the church. If it were, they would
only insure it if there were additional security measures, such as
a "24-hour-manned alarmed glass display case"; but they were unable
to guarantee that even that would be an acceptable alternative. The
glass display case would cost at least £4000.
The petitioners asked the Chan-cellor to take a plain view of
redundancy by using an interpretation analogous to employment law,
and say that the cup was "excess to need and cannot be afforded".
Mark Blackett-Ord, who represented the opponent, said that it was
"difficult to see how a chalice can ever be redundant, save perhaps
where the parish has other 'better' ones".
The Chancellor, Mr Justin Gau, said that in his judgment a
"better" chalice than the cup was one that could actually be used
liturgically rather than admired as an object of beauty or
historical interest. He had formed that view on a reading of the
Last Supper. Our Lord commanded, "Do this in memory of me," not
"Admire this in memory of me."
The unique and exceptional circumstances were sufficient reason
to justify the sale, the Chancellor ruled. The cup was liturgically
redundant, and the cost of returning it to the parish would be
prohibitive, bearing in mind the competing demands on the parish
resources, which would be better used for the repair and
restoration of the church.
It was accepted that there was a long and close connection
between the cup and the parish, although it appeared to be a
connection hitherto almost completely unknown to the majority of
the residents of the village.
The Chancellor was satisfied that the identification of the
village of Lacock, and the church of St Cyriac, as the provenance
of the cup, would carry on as before, and there was no evidence
that the museum would wish to alter that.
A condition of the faculty permitting the sale of the cup was
that it was to be sold only to the British Museum. It was also
directed that a photographic record of the cup was made, along with
a short history; that it should be appropriately displayed; and
that a copy of the cup was made for liturgical use at a cost not