The Ardagh Chalice, which ranks with the Book of Kells as one of the finest known works of Celtic art, is thought to have been made in the 9th century AD.
A large, two-handled silver cup, decorated with gold, gilt bronze, brass, lead pewter and enamel, assembled from 354 separate pieces. The names of the apostles are incised in a frieze around the bowl, below a girdle bearing inset gold wirework panels of animals, birds, and geometric interlace. Techniques used include hammering, engraving, lost-wax casting, filigree applique, cloisonné and enamelling.
It was found in 1847, together with a small bronze cup and four brooches, by two boys, Jim Quin and Paddy Flanagan, digging in a potato field on the south-western side of a rath (ring fort) called Reerasta, beside the village of Ardagh, County Limerick, Ireland. It had a bronze cup within it, and four ornate brooches (fibulae). Buried without the least protection as they were, the pieces must have been interred in a hurry, probably temporarily, as the owner probably intended to return for them at a later time.
The earliest specimen of a chalice of whose original purpose we can feel reasonably confident is the chalice of Chelles, preserved until the French Revolution and believed to have been wrought by, or at least to date from the time of, the famous artificer St. Eligius of Noyon, who died in 659.
These latter chalices are of considerable size, and they are often, though not always, fitted with handles, which, it is easy to understand, would have afforded additional security against accidents when the sacred vessel was put to the lips of each communicant in turn.
According to the existing law of the Church the chalice, or at least the cup of it, must be made either of gold or of silver, and in the latter case the bowl must be gilt on the inside.
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