ACU Art Collection Highlights

Dating back to the 17th century, a silver gilt recusant chalice is ACU’s latest engaging and symbolic art acquisition. Purchased by Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Greg Craven, this chalice has great religious significance, with links back to the reformation and the banning of Catholic mass by Edward VI.

The chalice stands approximately 15cm high and deliberately has few identifying marks. Featuring a tapering screw off bowl, it rests on a hexagonal trumpet foot with a reeded border, and is solely engraved with the Sacred Monogram.

The term recusancy applies to one who refuses to comply with a regulation or to submit to an authority. Hence, the chalice is termed recusant due to its pivotal role in communion during illegal post-reformation masses. These items are characterised by little or no identification markings, and screw together in several dismantlable parts to make them more easily hidden. As these were likely to be seized, many were made from base metals such as pewter and copper. These vessels were often used by travelling or peripatetic priests who would hide the dismantled chalice in among other items, suggesting, if discovered, that they were of a secular nature.

Professor Craven says the chalice was purchased “because it is a living emblem of the centuries of Catholic faith. The chalice represents continuity throughout the period of repression, but it’s also a fine example of Catholic traditional art. They are very hard to obtain, and this one is well made for its purpose. It will be used to celebrate the feast days of the saints who lost their lives, such as John Fisher, Thomas More and the Irishman Oliver Plunkett.”

This recent acquisition to the University’s Art Collection demonstrates the institution’s philosophy and spirituality. As a striking and relevant addition to a rich tapestry of culture reflecting the values of the University, this recusant chalice takes its place proudly in our collection.

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