Medieval Metalworks and Enamels
Each of the object types on this tour originally served sacred purposes. The Chalice of Abbot Suger, the Spanish ciborium, and the dove-shaped pyx were each associated with the celebration of the liturgy; the reliquary châsse formed a miniature "tomb" for the relic of a saint; the morse was a fastener for ecclesiastical garb; and the crucifix served as an object of devotion that could be inserted into a staff for processional use. The two aquamanile, or pitchers in animal or human forms, were used for either liturgical or secular handwashing.
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."