Rare Liturgical Objects

The project includes the restoration of a group of liturgical objects from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. After being merged into the collections of the Christian Museum of the Vatican Apostolic Library, and then to the Vatican Museums under the Rescriptum of Pope John Paul II in 1999, they are now currently on display in the Sala degli Indirizzi (Room of the Addresses). 

The first of these objects is a chalice, the sacred vessel used for the celebration of the Eucharist, in which the wine that becomes the Blood of Christ is consecrated through the ministry of the priest. Since the first Christians had to meet in private settings, the origin of the object is linked to ordinary household accessories. From the sixth century onward, however, liturgical chalices began to be made of precious metals such as gold or silver. The interior of religious chalices must always be gilded, as in this example. 

The silver chalice is engraved, embossed, chiseled and gilded. It has a hexagonal base and its stem is decorated with six disks of engraved silver representing the half-length figures of theVirgin and Child, St. Peter, St. Paul, two Saints(one with clasped hands and the other carrying a book and a palm), and the Mystic Lamb, one of the most widespread Christian symbols pictured here with the banner and cross in reference to the Resurrection. The chalice was acquired in 1812 by the Augustinian friars of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, who then passed the object to the Christian Museum. The chalice is matched with a lid of gilded silver, with the engraving of a half-length figure of the Savior with a halo and his arms crossed on his chest. The chalice and the lid are the work of a Roman goldsmith and can be dated to the first half of the fifteenth century.

A pair of small flasks with a tray, which came to the Christian Museum in 1935, come from the sacristy of the Sistine Chapel. The items are marked with the inscription: A. F. SS. (Sacri) PP. (Palaces)
AA. (Apostolic) June 1837

These crystal flasks, shaped like a carafe, are exquisitely decorated with engraved plant motifs and embossed and gilded garlands in silver. The spout ends in the form of a bird’s head. The lid is flanked by a pair of winged putti that support a papal tiara; on the front of the flask, as well as on the oval tray on which they rest, appears the emblem of Pope Gregory XVI Cappellari (1831-1846). The tray, dated 1837, was created by Antonio Cappelletti, active in Rome between 1803 and 1838.

The flasks are two small sacred vessels designed to contain wine and water. Originally, the wine for mass was offered by the faithful, who brought it personally to the altar in containers returned to them by the deacon after having poured it into the chalice. Eleventh century sources begin to mention a pair of flasks containing water and wine which, resting on a small tray next to the manutergio (small cloth for drying the hands), were placed during the rite within an appropriate niche or above a small table at the altar. 

Also from the sacristy of the Sistine Chapel are the palmatorium and the incense pot. The silver palmatorium, a small portable candlestick that was generally used by high-ranking prelates for liturgical readings during ecclesiastical ceremonies, is embossed, gilded, and engraved with a coat of arms of a domestic prelate. It is the work of Felice Sanini, a silversmith who was active in Rome between 1747 and 1787 and known for his large altar cross and two candlesticks made for the church of the Jesuits of San Rocco in Lisbon commissioned by King John V. 

The incense pot, gilded with silver and engraved with scenes of the Passion on the lid, is the work of the Roman silversmith Stefano Fedeli of the mid-nineteenth century.

The architectural tablet called a pace (used for the blessing of peace) displays a richly figured frame and bas-relief of the Pietà at the center. The object was used to bring peace, or the kiss of peace, before Communion to the choir and to certain participants in the Mass. This example, made by an anonymous silversmith, dates back to the second half of the sixteenth century.

Previously mentioned in the inventories of the Museum of Christian Antiquities of 1760 and 1762, is the gilded bronze cross of the fifteenth century. With a modern frame of gilded metal, the bronze cross is decorated with etchings of the crucifixionand the symbols of the four Evangelists along the edges.

This valuable silver cross is engraved with St. Nicholas and His Three Small Daughters, Assumption of the Virgin, St. Michael the Archangel, and a Holy Bishop, all merged with the figure of Christ. The cross is the work of a silversmith in the mid-eighteenth century. The item displays a dedication to the Canon Camillo Ciogni on the cross arm. This item is part of the donation by Carlo Antonio Barocchi to Pope Benedict XVI (2006).

Furthermore, in the storage of the Christian Museum is a precious model of Giotto’s famous campanile (bell tower) that today stands in Florence. The model is made of silver filigree and is signed and dated, “Stefano Beretta. Eseguito a Roma dal 1877 al 1879”.