The Sacred Silver Collection
The V&A's collection of objects used in worship is vast. The Sacred Silver collection comprises objects made for Christian worship (Catholic and Protestant, from Britain, Europe and beyond). It also features a small but significant collection of Judaica (objects used in Jewish worship). The collection dates from early medieval times to the present day.
The Christian church has always been one of the most important patrons for the goldsmith's trade. Throughout its history, precious vessels of gold and silver have played an important role in its rites and ceremonies, as they have in the Jewish faith.
Some of the finest examples of the craft can be seen in silver made for worship. Some elaborate piece were designed to evoke awe. Other more simplistic pieces focus on function over spectacle.
The richness or simplicity of sacred vessels reflects differing ideologies within the Christian church. At various stages of church history special kinds of silver have been made in response to concerns and beliefs: reliquaries for the venerated remains of saints, crosses for processions, alms dishes for the collection of gifts for the poor. This diversity reflects the complex history of the church, and the living faith of its members.
Learn more about the messages and meaning in the design of sacred Christian silver objects in our Guide to Christian Signs and Symbols .
Torah mantle & rimmonim
The velvet Torah mantle covers a Torah scroll, the most sacred object in the Jewish faith. Above the mantle are a pair of silver rimmonim (the Hebrew word for pomegranates) that recall the bells worn on the High Priest's robe in the Bible. The scroll itself contains the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) and is kept in the Ark of the Law (Aron ha-Kodesh), which is the central focus of the synagogue. On Sabbaths, Mondays, Thursdays and holy days it is taken out and read in front of the congregation. On these days the dressed ornamented Torah is walked in procession around the synagogue before and after the Torah reading.
This magnificent Torah mantle probably came from the Sephardic synagogue in Amsterdam, where there was a thriving Jewish community in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is decorated on the front with the Ark of the Law in the Amsterdam synagogue.Listen to the audio clips below to find out more about this Torah mantle & rimmonim.
Relics are bones or fragments associated with saints. They are kept secure in containers called reliquaries, whose design sometimes evokes the relic itself. This empty reliquary portrays a young girl in a brocaded dress with a fashionable square-cut bodice. Her identity is unknown, but she probably represents a virgin martyr, perhaps St Ursula, who according to legend, was martyred with 11,000 virgins. The reliquary may originally have held a relic of her head.
The monstrance (pictured below) displayed the Sacred Host, the consecrated bread which in Catholic belief is the body of Christ. Monstrances first appeared in 1264 after the institution of the Feast of Corpus Christi. They became especially prominent during the Counter Reformation, when the Catholic church placed great emphasis on the Eucharist (the ceremony in which the wine and bread are transformed into the blood and body of Christ) .
This magnificent German example embodies Counter Reformation theology. In the centre is the Last Supper with the disciples seated at the table. Christ himself is represented only when the Host is placed inside the window. The rays of the sun represent his radiance. The corn and grapes on either side refer to the bread and wine of the Mass, which become his body and blood.
Listen to the audio clip below to find out more about this monstrance.
This is a rare survival and the earliest known English censer made of non-precious metal. It was found in Cambridge reputedly in a ditch. Censers are containers for burning incense in churches. Incense is a mixture of gum arabic and fragrance. It has been burnt since ancient times to symbolise the prayers of the faithful rising to God. The incense is put on hot coals in a censer, which is then swung by its chains to spread the sweet smoke. Medieval censers were usually shaped like contemporary churches.
'The Real Thing' Cross
This cross uses recycled Coca Cola bottle tops, gathered in Rwanda and laser-welded over a wooden frame. Dr David Poston who made the cross, has worked in Africa for many years, teaching blacksmithing techniques to rural communities under the auspices of the United Nations. In a statement about the piece, Poston posed a series of questions which the viewer might like to consider, such as:
'Is there anything inherently offensive in the piece? If someone were to choose to take offence, would this be because of any statement genuinely inherent to the piece or a reflection of their own position, prejudices and asssumptions?'
'If the juxtaposition of cross and Coca Cola is offensive, to whom and why?'
'What do used Coca Cola bottle tops imply or represent? In this context, what is the significance of their coming from Rwanda?'
'How great is the difference between the two symbols? Do they now both represent brands?'