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Paten with the Communion of the Apostles

Early Byzantine
6th century
35 cm x 35 cm x 3.18 cm (13 3/4 in. x 13 3/4 in. x 1 1/4 in.)
silver, gilding and niello

On view


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Additional Image Detail
Additional Image Detail
Additional Image Detail
Additional Image Detail
Additional Image Detail, small stamp on rim
Detail, small stamp on rim
Additional Image Detail, stamp
Detail, stamp
Additional Image Inscription one: "For the Peace of the Soul of..."
Inscription one: "For the Peace of the Soul of..."
Additional Image Inscription three:  "...Iohannes, and of..."
Inscription three: "...Iohannes, and of..."
Additional Image Obverse, full view
Obverse, full view
Additional Image Reverse
Additional Image Three pieces of the Riha treasure
Three pieces of the Riha treasure

This paten, chalice, and fan (BZ.1924.5, BZ.1955.18, and BZ.1936.23, respectively) were said to have been found together at Riha, a small village south of Aleppo in central Syria. Their burial in this area was probably in response to invasions during the early seventh century by Sasanian and Arab forces and, because their owners had to flee or were killed, the silver objects were not retrieved until the early twentieth century. This group and silver treasures from nearby Stuma, Hama, and Antioch were discovered at about the same time, and it has been suggested that these individual hoards actually constituted one large group brought together for protective burial, which was divided into smaller sets after it was unearthed about one hundred years ago.

The chalice, paten, and fan are each impressed with stamps that indicate the emperor’s reign during which it was made. The chalice was fabricated during the reign of Justinian I (527–65), while the paten and fan belong to the reign of his successor, Justin II (565–78). Although the chalice’s date indicates that it was not made along with the paten and fan, the three may well have been used together at a subsequent date. They form a set for use in the Orthodox Eucharist, or Communion: the paten held the leavened bread, still a tradition in Orthodox worship, the chalice contained the wine, and the fan was used to
keep insects away from the bread and the wine. Jesus instituted the Eucharist, as recorded in the gospels of Matthew (26:26–28) and Mark (14:22–24): offerings of bread and wine to the apostles that foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood.

This paten and a related one from Stuma (Istanbul, Archaeological Museum) illustrate the Communion of the Apostles, the precedent for all Eucharist ceremonies in the Orthodox church. Although part of the Gospel narrative, the representation is symbolic, showing Jesus twice with a cross-halo, behind the altar, officiating as a priest and a deacon, in front of a niche with a shell motif, suggesting the apse of a small church. He distributes wine and bread to the apostles standing to either side of the altar while lamps burn above on top of columns.

Inscribed in handsome niello letters around the edge of the paten is the supplication of its donors: “For the repose (of the soul) of Sergia, (daughter) of John, and of Theodosios, and (for) the salvation of Megalos and Nonnous and their children.” The prayer for Sergia and Theodosios was “repeated” whenever the paten was used, certainly an intended result of the inscription’s placement. The detailed image of the Communion is in the repoussé technique, raising the metal surface by tamping from the back. Gilding has been added for spiritual value, and the lustrous niello further enhances the paten’s aesthetic impression. The use of the paten with its symbolic image contributed to the deeply spiritual character of the Eucharist and accentuated the heartfelt prayer of its donors.
S. Zwirn

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Exhibition History
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, "Exposition d'art byzantin," May 28 - July 9, 1931.

Worcester, MA, Worcester Art Museum, "Art of the Dark Ages," Feb. 19 - Mar. 29, 1937.

Cambridge, MA, Fogg Art Museum, "A Selection of Ivories, Bronzes, Metalwork and Other Objects from the Dumbarton Oaks Collection," Nov. 15 - Dec. 31, 1945.

Athens, Zappeion Exhibition Hall, "Byzantine Art and European Art," Ninth Exhibition held under the Auspices of the Council of Europe, April 1 - June 15, 1964.

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century," Nov. 19, 1977 - Feb. 12, 1978.

Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, "Silver Treasure from Early Byzantium," Apr. 18 - Aug. 17, 1986.

Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, "Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai," Nov. 14, 2006 - March 4, 2007.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Georges Joseph Demotte (1877-1923), Paris, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 1924.

Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 1924-1940.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, DC.

Related Objects
Image of Flabellum

Image of Chalice


Christ|Jesus Christ | Churches | Communion of the Apostles | Greek