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.
The distribution of wine was an integral part of the Eucharist, so that chalices were made in the same material as patens, often as a set (diskopoterion). This chalice, with its large bowl, small knob, and flaring foot, has the typical shape and proportions of many other sixth-century chalices. The bowl of the chalice allowed a large amount of wine to be held, evidence that Communion was distributed only on periodic occasions throughout the ecclesiastical year. A chalice of this shape and relative size is represented on the altar on the Riha paten.
The words of the niello inscription around the chalice would have been said by the priest celebrating Communion: “Thine own of Thine own we offer Thee, O Lord." These words also appeared on the altar of the imperial church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople.
- S. Zwirn
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