The golden chalice of the great Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis

The golden chalice of the great Abbot Suger of Saint-DenisFrench 12th Century (cup Alexandrian 2nd/1st Century B.C.)
French 12th Century (artist)
Chalice of the Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis, 2nd/1st century B.C. (cup); 1137-1140 (mounting)
sardonyx cup with heavily gilded silver mounting, adorned with filigrees set with stones, pearls, glass insets, and opaque white glass pearls
overall (height): 18.4 cm (7 1/4 in.) overall (diam. at base): 11.7 cm (4 5/8 in.) overall (diam. at top): 12.4 cm (4 7/8 in.)
Widener Collection
1942.9.277
On View
From the Tour: Medieval Metalwork and Enamels

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.”

Source: National Gallery of Art

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