Silver Taza preserved in Colaton Raleigh Church

By T.N. Brushfield

Devon Notes & Queries, vol. I, (January 1900 to January 1901), p. 73-76

Provided by Michael Steer

The church of St John the Baptist at Colaton Raleigh is ancient (12th century), but was rebuilt about a century ago. It is transitional in style. A silver tazza, or communion paten, is preserved there as a treasure. It is recorded as have been presented to the church during the incumbency of John Vickary in 1749. It is decorated on its outer surface with a chased pattern of scroll and interlaced work. The hallmark is too faint to decipher. Initials GD on the interior might relate to Gregory Dodds, Dean of Exeter, (1560-70). It may have been used as a pre-reformation chalice, and converted to use as a communion cup during the reign of Elizabeth I. The extract, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

The silver Tazza or Paten shown in the accompanying illustration, is preserved in the Church of Colaton Raleigh, and I am indebted to the Vicar, the Rev. F. Bullock, for much information respecting it. It is stated to have been presented to that Church during the incumbency of John Vickry, or Vicary, in 1749, by Dr. Charles Lyttleton, at that time Dean of Exeter : and is further reported to have belonged originally to St. Michael's Chapel, within the Deanery.

It is 4¾ inches high, and consists of two distinct portions, the Tazza and the Pedestal or Stem : the workmanship of one being wholly different from that of the other.

The Tazza, of plain hammered silver, is 6 inches in diameter, with a rim about one inch high, sloping outwards, and decorated on its outer surface with a chased pattern of scroll and interlaced work. Its base is formed of a separate piece of metal, and is united to the rim by a rolled edge. The inner aspect is slightly concave, with a centre somewhat flattened, and occupied by a circle of 2j inches diameter, within which is the representation of a stag's head caboshed, with the initials " G. D." one on either side of it with scroll work, all in plain chasing : no doubt intended for the arms of the Deanery. Dr. Oliver affirms the stag's head to be "ensigned with a cross pattee fitchy" (Eccles. Antiq. of Devon, III, 98), but, as will be noticed in the illustration, the latter is absent ; and, most probably, when the Dr. was writing out his account of it, he had in his mind's eye the arms over the entrance to the Deanery, where this cross is represented. The stamp of a hall-mark can be discerned on the outer face of the rim, but is too faint to be deciphered.

The Stem on which the Tazza rests appears to be more massive than the latter required, and is of thicker metal and ruder in workmanship. It is 3½ inches high, and terminates below in an expanded base of 4¾ inches diameter ; and above, in a knop-like ornament close to the under surface of the Tazza.

It is built up, as it were, of five distinct parts, all of hammered silver, and (except the outer ring of the base) their respective edges are soldered to shape. These consist of the shaft, the round moulding immediately below it, the first expanded piece, and finally the outer ring ; the jointing in all being very marked.

The construction of the upper member is peculiar : the bold round moulding, similar to the knop of a medieval chalice, is soldered to the underside of the Tazza, while below it terminates in a free round edge. A cursory examination shows this enlarged part to be quite independent of the main shaft, the latter being continued inside it, up to the Tazza to which it is soldered, separately to the other. With the exception of the base, which bears a stamped pattern, the entire decoration of the Stem is of bold repousse work, with tooling, that of the shaft being continued beneath the capping, and presenting a striking contrast to the plain chasing of the former. The result of this examination proves the shaft to have been originally taller than the present one by, at least, the depth (one inch) of the expanded portion, which at first formed the terminal of the shaft, but was cut off, reversed, and then slided over the latter in the manner depicted in the illustration.

There are several points in the Tazza from which we may infer the comparative date of its manufacture. The initials " G. D." on its inner surface, when taken in connection with the circumstance of the arms being those of the Exeter Deanery, show them to be intended for Gregory Dodds, who was Dean from 1560 to 1570. Now between the first of these dates and 1580, there are many records extant of pre-Reformation Chalices being exchanged for Communion Cups during the early Elizabethan period. Thus, in the accounts of St. Martin's Church, Leicester, the following appears among the entries of the year 1567: "Sold by M r - Will m - Manbye, by thassent of y e pishe one Chales . . . and also bought by the sayd M r Will m - Manbye one Communion cup w th a kever.'' (Chronicles, T. North (1866), 169). During those years a large number of such Cups was irade by John Jones, a silversmith, living in St. Petrock's Parish, Exeter, and one highly decorated was presented by him to the Church of that parish (where it is yet preserved), in which he had served the office of Warden for two years. Others manufactured by him are to be found in the Churches of East Budleigh and Clayhanger in this county, and there is one in the South Kensington Museum. In addition to his known plate-mark, all possess a peculiar style of chased decoration, that on the Tazza being of the same character. We may, therefore, assign its manufacture to the Exeter silversmith, J. Jones, circ. 1570, and the circumstance of its being sent from Exeter points in the same direction.

We cannot so easily attribute a date to the Stem, there being no plate-mark or other fact to guide us. Apart from its massive appearance, the manner in which its height was reduced proves it to have been primarily intended to support a larger or heavier article than the present Tazza. Moreover, the general character of the workmanship, and the style of its decoration, demonstrate it to have been the work of some other maker. Although there is nothing on which to base an opinion, yet it appears to me to be much older than the Tazza, and this seems to be indicated when we pause to consider the kind of article it was originally intended to uphold. Bearing in mind that only a few years had elapsed between the time when the Cathedral was despoiled of its plate, -and that of the appointment of Gregory Dodds as Dean, it is by no means improbable it belonged to some article used in the services of the Cathedral prior to the Reformation, e.g., the support of a Pyx, as in the example of one exhibited at Ironmongers' Hall, in 1861 (Catalogue, 524) ; or of an Incense-Boat or Ship, as it was often termed from its shape, used to hold incense. Thus in the Wardens' Accounts of St. Helens, Abingdon, is this entry under the year 1555: " For a shippe for frankincense .... os. 2od." (Archaeologia, I, 12). A similar kind of Stem was employed in articles of domestic use during the mediaeval period, such as Drinking Cups, Hanaps, Nefs, &c., shown in plate 2 in Miscellanea Graphica (1856) ; and in several plates in a Catalogue of Antique Silver Plate, formerly in the possession of Lord Londesborough (1860) ; and especially of an " Encensoir," for distributing perfumes (pi. 6). But for the reasons already mentioned it is more likely to have belonged to some piece of ecclesiastical service plate. It is fairly certain that the curved base of the Tazza proves it to have been designed to be supported by a Stem of some kind ; and it is not unreasonable to believe the possession of the latter may have been the cause of the former having been designed for it.

Assuming it to have been intended for ecclesiastical purposes, was it a Paten, as designated by Dr. Oliver? A Paten during the early part of Elizabeth's reign was of small size, and when reversed acted as a cover to the Chalice, or, to call it by its later name, Communion Cup. Now the diameter of the mouth of the Cup in East Budleigh Church is 3! inches, and the cover fits it exactly. Many similar examples of this period are figured in Nightingale's Church Plate of Wilts (1891) ; and an excellent illustration of an "Elizabethan Communion Cup and Paten," dated 1571, belonging to Hillmorton Church, Warwickshire, is given in Bloxam's Ecclesiastical Vestments, &c. (1882), 190.

Although it may have been occasionally used as a Paten, it could not judging from what has just been stated have been originally designed for one ; more probably it was intended to hold the unconsecrated bread. Perhaps, on the whole, it is better to term it simply a Tazza, i.e., "a saucer-shaped bowl or vase." The living being in the patronage of the Dean of Exeter, may, perhaps, assist in explaining the reason of the gift ; and as Dr. Lyttleton was appointed Dean in the same year as J. Vicary was instituted to the living (1748), possibly the presentation was made by him. Moreover, the Dean had a vested interest in the parish. Pole notes, "the Deane and Chapter of Exon hath a manner in this place" (Devon, 163), and the Dean's house and garden (still in existence) are alluded to in Bp. Grandisson's Register, in the year 1347, as being exempt from the payment of tithes ; "manse Domini Decani cum suis gardinis nunc existentibus exceptis " (edit. H. Randolph, 1021).

The Tazza was exhibited at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries, on March i6th, 1899, and a short description of it is printed in their Proceedings, xvii, 2nd S., 369-70.           T. N. BRUSHFIELD.