This chalice, a vessel to hold wine for Mass, is one of the most splendid treasures from the Middle Ages. Acquired by Abbot Suger for the French royal abbey of Saint-Denis, near Paris, the stone cup was set in gold and probably used in the consecration ceremony for the new altar chapels of the church on 11 June 1144.

Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis from 1122 to 1151, was not only a Benedictine monk but also a brilliant administrator who served as regent of France during the Second Crusade. With objects such as this chalice and the abbey's new Gothic architecture, he aimed to create a vision of paradise on earth that would awe beholders. In his writings, Suger equated Divine Light with the real light shimmering through stained glass and glistening from gems.

The cup incorporated in Abbot Suger's chalice was carved from sardonyx, probably in Alexandria, Egypt during the second to first centuries B.C. Suger's goldsmiths mounted the cup in a gold and silver setting with delicate gold-wire filigree and adorned it with gems. On the foot, a medallion depicts the haloed Christ, flanked by the Greek letters signifying: "I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End."


Abbey Church of Saint-Denis, France, from 1137/1140 to 1791;[1] Cabinet National des Médailles et Antiques, Paris, from 30 September 1791 to 16 February 1804;[2] acquired 1804 by Charles Towneley [1737-1805], London; in the Towneley family, London, until possibly 1920. (Harry Harding, London), in 1920; (Goldschmidt Galleries, New York), by 1921; purchased 20 March 1922 by Joseph E. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, after purchase by funds of the Estate; gift 1942 to NGA.

Exhibition History
Treasures from Medieval France, Cleveland Museum of Art, 1967, 70-71, color repro.
[Loan in conjunction with symposium on Byzantine Liturgy], Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., 1979. [published incorrectly in Systematic Catalogue as 1978]
The Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis in the Time of Abbot Suger (1125-1151), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1981, 108-111.
Le Trésor de Saint-Denis, Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1991, no. 28, repro. 175.
The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era A.D. 843-1261, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1997, no. 296, repro.
Doublet, Dom Jacques. Histoire de l'Abbaye Royale de Saint Denys en France. Paris, 1625.
Duchesne, François. Historia Francorum. Vol. 4. Paris, 1641.
Félibien, Michael. Histoire de l'abbaye royale de Saint-Denys en France. 1706. Reprint Paris, 1976, recueil de pièces justificatives, part 2, 172-187.
Lecoy de la Marche, A. Oeuvres complètes de Suger. Paris, 1867.
Bouquet, Martin. Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France. Vol. 12. Paris, 1781. 2d ed., Paris, 1877.
Rohault de Fleury, Charles. La Messe. Etudes archéologiques sur ses monuments. 8 vols. Paris, 1883-1889, 4:123-124, pl. 309.
Omont, Henri. Inventaire du trésor de Saint-Denis en 1505 et 1739. Paris, 1901.
Guibert, Joseph. Les dessins du cabinet de Peiresc au Cabinet des Estampes de la Bibliothèque Nationale. Paris, 1910: 27-28, 33-35, 39, 41-43, 46, pl. III.
Conway, Sir W. Martin. "The Abbey of Saint-Denis and its Ancient Treasures." Archaeologia or Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity 66 (1915): 103-158, pl. 16.
Rosenberg, Marc. Der Goldschmiede Merkzeichen. 3d ed. 4 vols. Frankfurt-am-Main, 1922-1928: 4:311-312.
Ricci, Seymour de. "Un calice du trésor de Saint-Denis." Académie des inscriptions et Belles-Lettres: Comptes Rendus des séances de l'année Paris (1923): 335-339.
Rosenberg, Marc. "Ein wiedergefundener Kelch." Festschrift zum sechzigsten Geburtstag von Paul Clemen. Bonn, 1926: 209-217.
Braun, Joseph, S.J. Das Christliche Altargerät in seinem Sein und in seiner Entwicklung. Munich, 1932: 46-47, pl. 3, fig. 8.
Works of Art from the Widener Collection. Foreword by David Finley and John Walker. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 9.
Panofsky, Erwin. Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis and its Art Treasures. Princeton, 1946. 2d ed. Edited by Gerda Panofsky-Soergel. Princeton, 1979.
Seymour, Charles. Masterpieces of Sculpture from the National Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1949: 10, 171, note 1, repro. 27.
Christensen, Erwin O. Objects of Medieval Art from the Widener Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1952: 6-7.
Guth, Paul. "Le trésor fabuleux des rois mages." Connaissance des arts 70 (December 1957): 147.
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): 1, pl. 1
Revel, J. F. "Un problème controversé: l'exil des oeuvres d'art." Connaisance des arts 96 (February 1960): 42-43, color pl.
Crosby, Sumner McKnight. "The Creative Environment." Ventures, Magazine of the Yale Graduate School 5, no. 2 (1965): 10-15.
Treasures from Medieval France. Exh. cat. Cleveland Museum of Art, 1967: 70-71, color repro.
Wentzel, Hans. "Abseitige Trouvaillen an Goldschmied." Studien zur Buchmalerei und Goldschmiedekunst des Mittelalters. Fest. K.H. Usener. Marburg-an-der-Lahn, 1967: 65-78, especially 74-75, figs. 14-15.
von Euw, Anton. In Fillitz, Hermann. Das Mittelalter I. Propyläen Kunstgeschichte. Vol. 5. Berlin, 1969: 256.
Frisch, Teresa G. "Gothic Art 1140 -c. 1450." Sources and Documents in the History of Art. Ed. by H. W. Janson. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1971: 11.
Lasko, Peter. Ars Sacra. Pelican History of Art. Baltimore, 1972: 227.
Montesquiou-Fezensac, Blaise de, and Gabrielle Gaborit-Chopin. Le Trésor de Saint-Denis, Inventaire de 1634. Paris, 1973: 38, 57-58, 164-165.
Verdier, Philippe. "Réflexions sur l'esthétique de Suger." Etudes de civilisation médiévale: Mélanges offerts à Edmond-René Labande. Poitiers, 1975: 699-709, 700-702, figs. 1, 2.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 36, color repro.
Montesquiou-Fezensac, Blaise de, and Gabrielle Gaborit-Chopin. Le Trésor de Saint-Denis. Document divers. Paris, 1977: 177-181.
Montesquiou-Fezensac, Blaise de, and Gabrielle Gaborit-Chopin. Le Trésor de Saint-Denis. Planches et notices. Paris, 1977: 57-59, pls. 41-43.
The Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis in the Time of Abbot Suger (1125-1151). Exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1981: 108-111.
Alsop, Joseph. The Rare Art Traditions: The History of Art Collecting and Its Linked Phenomena Wherever These Have Appeared. Bollingen series 35, no. 27. New York, 1982: 57.
Brenk, B. "Suger Spolien." Arte Medievale 1 (1983): 107.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 34, color repro. 35.
Verdier, Philippe. "The Chalice of Abbot Suger." Studies in the History of Art 24 (1990): 9-29.
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 196, color repro.
Le Trésor de Saint-Denis. Exh. cat. Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1991: no. 28, repro. 175.
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 308, repro.
Distelberger, Rudolf, Alison Luchs, Philippe Verdier, and Timonthy H. Wilson. Western Decorative Arts, Part I: Medieval, Renaissance, and Historicizing Styles including Metalwork, Enamels, and Ceramics. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1993: 4-12, color fig. 4.
Richler, Martha. National Gallery of Art, Washington: A World of Art. London, 1997: 18, color fig. 8.
Pennanen, Valerie Hutchinson. "Communion." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art, ed. Helene E. Roberts. 2 vol. Chicago and London, 1998: 1:180-181, 184,186, repro.
National Gallery of Art Special Issue. Connaissance des Arts. Paris, 2000: repro. 59, 62.
Honour, Hugh and John Fleming. A World History of Art. 7th ed. New York, 2005: 377, color fig. 9.37.
Gopnik, Blake. "Oldest Object on Display--National Gallery of Art." The Washington Post (October 3, 2010): R9, repro.
Technical Summary

The domed foot of the sardonyx cup is no longer visible in the modern restoration. It is hidden by the circlet studded with pearls above the knob. Between 1633 and 1706 a lower curl and a loop were added to the curling upper parts of the handles. The faceted stones of the knob are late medieval replacements. Only a few of the original stones meticulously itemized in the 1634 inventory remain today. The modern replacements are mainly glass insets, red or purple, and a number of pearls are imitations in white glass. The lower part of the foot is different from what it was until the French Revolution. It has been straightened out into a narrower and more conical shape. The flat bottom edge has been remade, with the addition of a beaded string and a cable. All the stones and the settings have been changed.