ChurchSilver

09 January 2012

The Church and other religious institutions have for thousands of years provided goldsmiths and silversmiths with employment or inspiration and little has changed in the 21st century. Over recent months a number of the silversmiths who subscribe to Who’s Who in Gold and Silver have been busy designing and making pieces for churches around the country. Scottish silversmith Graham Stewart was commissioned to make a magnificent ecclesiastical mace to commemorate and celebrate the silver jubilee of Scotland's most senior Catholic clergyman, his Eminence Keith Patrick Cardinal O'Brien as Archibishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.

Olivia Lowe's Chalice made for the Church of The Blessed Mary in Upham, Hampshire.

The Church and other religious institutions have for thousands of years provided goldsmiths and silversmiths with employment or inspiration and little has changed in the 21

st

century.

Over recent months a number of the silversmiths who subscribe to Who’s Who in Gold and Silver have been busy designing and making pieces for churches around the country. Scottish silversmith Graham Stewart was commissioned to make a magnificent ecclesiastical mace to commemorate and celebrate the silver jubilee of Scotland's most senior Catholic clergyman, his Eminence Keith Patrick Cardinal O'Brien as Archibishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.

Based in his workshop in Dunblane, Graham designed and made the mace which measures 130 centimetres. In total the mace took three and a half months to complete. The shaft of the mace is made from African Blackwood, making reference to the Cathedral’s partner church in Nigeria and the head bears ornately modelled coats of arms in silver and silver gilt. The four coats of arms represented include the Papal, the Cardinal's, the Diocese and that of St. Margaret of Scotland and the very top of the mace is crowned with the Cross of St. Andrews. 

Graham Stewart said:  “It was a privilege and honour to design and make the mace, drawing on the combined skills of all the members of my workshop and external assistance on the woodwork.”

The mace was presented to Cardinal O’Brien during his jubilee celebrations which occurred shortly before the Pope’s visit to Scotland last year. The Mace is thought to be one of only two ecclesiastical maces within the Roman Catholic Church in Britain, the other being in Westminster Cathedral.

Birmingham-based silversmith Shona March has recently had two very exciting commissions.  She was asked by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to make an unfolded reconstruction of a folded cross found as part of the Staffordshire Hoard which was then presented to the Pope as a gift from the city of Birmingham when he visited in 2010.  Since then she has been asked to make a replica pectoral cross also from the Hoard. This second cross is for Lichfield Cathedral and has been commissioned so that it can go on permanent display in the Cathedral along with selected original items from the Hoard.

The Reverend Dr Pete Wilcox, Canon Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral explains:  “We decided we would like a replica of the cross as it was found, with one bent arm and one arm detached.  Although selected original items of the Hoard will be on display in the Cathedral long term, this one (because it is so iconic) will seldom be available to us.  So we want an exact replica, not to show visitors what it would once have looked like, but to substitute for the real thing.

“The cross, with a biblical inscription strip which was also part of the find, will help us here at Lichfield to link our own story to the story of the hoard.  The origins of Lichfield Cathedral lie in exactly the same period when the hoard was buried.  Chad, our patron saint, was bishop here from 669-672.  We have two amazing treasures of our own (the St Chad Gospels, older than the Book of Kells) and the Lichfield Angel (perhaps the finest surviving piece of late 8th century sculpture in the country). 

These two ecclesiastical items from the hoard help us to tell the story of how Mercia became a Christian kingdom.  In particular, the pectoral cross could only have been worn, in Saxon times, by a Bishop or an Abbot.  If, as scholars suggest, it is a 7th century artefact, then the cast list of possible owners is a) known and b) small.  We can say with confidence: this cross would have been worn by someone like Chad; and that Chad would have worn a cross like this one!” 

Shona has also been asked by Lichfield to make a replica of the biblical inscription strip, which bears a text from the book of Numbers, chapter 10, verse 35, from the Latin Vulgate.  It translates: 'Arise, O God, and let your enemies be scattered.  May those who hate you flee before you'. 

On a slightly more modest scale but equally as important, silversmith Olivia Lowe met a couple at Goldsmiths’ Fair, who by coincidence lived in a village very close to her studio in the Hampshire countryside.  Impressed by her silver they commissioned Olivia to design and make a silver chalice for their church, The Blessed Mary in the village of Upham.  The chalice was to be a leaving gift to the Church and its community as the couple, after 30 years of worshipping at the Blessed Mary, were moving to another part of the country. 

Olivia designed a simple but striking chalice, the stylised leaf shapes that hold the bowl of the chalice represent the Holy Trinity and the twist in the stem was inspired by a section of the wrought iron gates outside the church.  The chalice is now in regular use at the Blessed Mary and although the couple who commissioned it are no longer physically present it is a way for them to remain part of the community and they in turn are remembered in a very special and meaningful way.

Silversmith Wally Gilbert has recently made two crosses for St Mary’s Church, Nether Alderley, Cheshire.  One is an altar cross in silver with gold detail and the other a processional cross in silver plated copper, aside from this fundamental difference in other respects the two crosses are nearly identical. One side has geometric applied wire decoration and the other an organic chased design both measure 650mm. Wally is now in the process of making a ciborium for St Mary’s.

Another recent fascinating church commission was undertaken by silversmith James Dougall who was asked to make a hanging pyx for the Lady Chapel at the Church of the Holy Trinity at Cookham, the Church made famous by the artist Stanley Spencer. The culmination of two year’s work, the Pyx, a rare object more usually found in a cathedral setting, was erected and dedicated in this beautiful Thames-side parish church back in June this year and joins only the handful of such objects made within the last 50 years.  The commission for the Pyx, designed to house the reserved sacrament, was instigated as part of the re-ordering of the Lady Chapel at Holy Trinity and is designed to mark the anniversary of the benefactor’s first communion, sixty years ago. 

James drew his inspiration from the setting in which the Pyx was to be housed and the traditional way the Holy Trinity was represented through the use of triangles. As such the asymmetrically shaped body of the Pyx references those influences and uses golden section geometry to scale the design. Equally the tripartite nature of the handle and counterbalance form both a visual and physical “protector” around the Pyx representing the Holy Trinity. 

One of the more challenging aspects of the commission was that the Pyx, designed to hang six feet above the altar has to drop down to Altar level to be used. James achieved this through the use of an ingenious rise and fall mechanism using some 40 meters of stainless steel wires and a pulley system fixed 25 feet up in the roof timbers. The counterbalance to the body of the Pyx has been designed to be integral to the design and as such when the body of the Pyx descends the counterbalance rises to 15 feet above the altar, adding to the theatre of the occasion. James spent more than 500 hours on the construction of the Pyx, fabricating every component of the near metre high piece in his Buckinghamshire workshop using traditional silversmithing techniques such as forging, bouging and fabricating to achieve his unique design. He said of the process, ‘Because of the nature of the piece and the scale on which I was working there are no uniform components so tooling had to be made prior to starting , every single element is different and joining them all involved some seven metres of soldered joints, it was quite a challenge’

Another problem to be overcome was getting the counterbalance to be of equal weight as the body of the Pyx, ‘I had to completely finish the body of the Pyx before I could start on the counterbalance element of the design as there was no way of accurately estimating how much it would weigh, I then had to hot forge the counterbalance from very precisely cut pieces of metal allowing for only a very small amount of loss in the cleaning up process’. The Pyx adds to James rapidly growing portfolio of ecclesiastical and ceremonial work.

Norfolk based silversmith Rod Kelly is regularly employed on church silver commissions.  St Alban’s Church in Romford Essex is a recent patron and Rod is currently working on both an altar cross and a sanctuary lamp, together with another silversmith Lexi Dick, for the Church of St Albans.  Rod also recently collaborated with his wife, enamellist Sheila McDonald, on a ciboria for St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Dumbarton, Scotland to mention but a few of his many church commissions.