July 22, 2012


Is a large two-handled cup of silver, decorated with gold, gilt bronze, and enamel; one of the best known examples of Irish ecclesiastical metalwork. It was disvovered in 1868, together with a small bronze cup and four brooches, by a boy digging for potatoes in Ardagh, County Limerick.

The decoration consists principally of panels of fine gold and silver filigree applied to the otherwise plain body of the vessel. Studs set with coloured enamels are arranged at intervals amid the filigree decoration, which combines interlaced animal forms and spirals with repeating abstract patterns.

The outside of the bowl is engraved with the Latin names of some of the Apostles. There are similarities between the letters of this inscription and some of the large initials in the celebrated Lindisfarne Gospels, which probably dates from about 710-20 AD.

Current opinion, therefore, is that the Ardagh Chalice dates probably within the first half of the 8th century. It has so far proved impossible to attribute its manufacture to any particular workshop, but affinities do exist between the filigree decoration on the chalice Tara brooch.

Another well known example of Irish ecclesiastical metalwork, the Moylough belt-reliquary is also decorated in a similar manner. It is likely that the Ardagh Chalice formed part of the treasury of some early Irish church or monatery, until it was disestablished and the cup was concealed for safe-keeping.

It is now housed in the National Museum or Ireland at Dublin.

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