As I write this post, I’m currently ensconced in one of my favorite English cities, Oxford, where tomorrow I’ll be tramping around what remains of Godstow Nunnery just outside of the city and the setting for book #3 in my ‘Flight Through Time’ historical mystery series.  While I’m looking forward to this, two days ago I had an extraordinary experience at Winchester Cathedral.

 Through connections to the Cathedral, an old friend of mine was able to arrange an opportunity for me to spend some time with one of the Cathedral’s curators who allowed me to privately view the 12th century ‘Sparsholt Chalice and Paten’, on loan to the Cathedral, but not on display.  

We tend to fantasize that such ecclesiastical trappings were always very ornate, made from the most valuable of metals such gold or silver, decorated with priceless gems.  The reality is that in fact, often they were not. 

During a Victorian renovation of Sparsholt’s church which is located about three miles from Winchester and believed to be a site of worship since Saxon times, the chalk grave of a 12th century priest was discovered near the pulpit;  buried with him were a ceremonial pewter chalice and paten.

What surprised me the most was not only its lack of ornamentation and utter simplicity, but the size!  A visual guess puts the chalice at roughly four inches tall with the bowl perhaps six inches in diameter.  The paten is perhaps four inches in diameter.  With the exception of the medieval Christian cross embossed in the center of the paten, both pieces are totally devoid of decoration and although Pewter was considered a valuable metal, it certainly wasn’t in the category of gold and silver.  During a recent conservation restoration, the decision was made not to attempt to repair the crack in the bowl.  Nevertheless, to contemplate something so old in front of you, wondering who might have used it 900 years ago, staggers the mind.

We also forget that the average height of the medieval body was much shorter than modern physical characteristics, so one wonders; even though the pieces were ceremonial, were they proportionally fashioned?

Unfortunately, but understandably, I wasn’t allowed to hold them, but nevertheless it was an extraordinary experience, knowing that characters in my books have been taking the sacraments from items such as these.



Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work


  1. Diane Kratz

    I LOVE history. What a fascinating find! It brings up all types of questions in my mind. First pewter material used. Reminded me of the priest’s vow to remain poor. But most chalices were made of gold. At least that’s what I always been taught. Pewter is very inexpensive, at least today. The plate? Ummm? What was it used for, collections? All kinds of things are running through my mind right now. Thanks for sharing!


      The plate was for the ‘host’…actually when I posted this blog piece I’d forgotten that the ‘curator’ told me the chalice and paten are actually lead —I also have the restoration report on it as well….my mind got distracted when writing(can you imagine?) because I started thinking about the poisonous possibilities between something added to the wine reacting to the metal. I asked my friend who is very active in the Sparsholt parrish and Winchester, why the small churches lend out their artifacts to the bigger cathedrals….simple…insurance for these small places to carry is prohibitive. thanks for commenting here !

  2. Rowland Wateridge (Winchester, England)

    Remarkably, in the very next parish adjacent to Sparsholt the Church of St Matthew (formerly St Mary’s) Weeke, Winchester also possesses a very rare paten of similar age but originally of parcel gilt. The gilding has worn leaving the silver base exposed. This paten is larger than the Sparsholt one and contains a central embossed figure of the Angus Dei within a Latin inscription around its circumference. Currently St Matthew’s uses a modern gilt replica. The original paten is also on loan to Winchester Cathedral.

    • Gaye Mack

      Rowland, many thanks for your comments on this posting…I didn’t know about the St. Matthew paten…so it would seem that way back, this parish had more wealth than Sparsholt? I’ll be coming back over in September but unfortunately doubtful I can make it down your way this trip, although(and I may have posted this in the original copy) I have a very dear friend who lives in Sparsholt and as a church warden was responsible for me seeing their chalice and paten…but one never knows how plans can change and it is tempting…is the St. Matthew paten in the Winchester treasury so it can be viewed?

  3. Rowland Wateridge (Winchester, England)

    If it is of interest, I can email a photograph of the later silver paten if you will let me have your email address. Its approximate date is 1230 and, unlike the Sparsholt set, it was in continuous use until relatively recent times – not quite 800 years!

    • Gaye Mack

      That would be very kind, I’d love it…here’s my email: gayemack@gayemack.com…just if you have time…amazing that it was in use until recently…the current book I’m working on (historical fiction) centers on the Cathar massacre at Montsegur 1244…I can’t seem to get myself out of the 13th century!!


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