Brass of the Month

March 2006: Rendham, Suffolk

March’s brass of the month features an unusual type of emblematic brass at Rendham, Suffolk, commemorating Thomas King, who died in 1523.


From the twelfth century onwards, it became the custom for priests to be buried in their vestments, often with a chalice and paten placed upon the breast. These chalices were commonly made of pewter, tin or lead, not the actual vessels used in the celebration of mass, though they were copies of them. Priests were often depicted on monumental brasses in Eucharistic vestments with their chalices. There are about fifty surviving examples of this type of memorial, including at Walton-on-Trent Derbyshire, c. 1500 and at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Cambridge c. 1520 on which the priest is represented as blessing the chalice and wafer. The Reformation brought about changes in the styles of brasses. Several types of brasses which were considered “Popish” ceased to be produced including brasses depicting saints, chalices etc, though there was some resurgence in these types of memorial with the Anglo-Catholic revival in the Victorian period.



In the fifteenth century a different type of memorial emerged, that of a chalice or chalice and wafer alone with an inscription to mark the burial place of a priest, but without an effigy. The earliest examples are found in Yorkshire, and are the product of a local workshop e.g. at Ripley, to Richard Kendale (1429); at Bishop Burton to Peter Johnson (1460); at St. Michael Spurriergate, York to William Langton (1466); and in St. Peter’s Church, Leeds to Thomas Clarell (1469).

The practice of laying down chalice brasses to priests was later adopted by Norwich and Suffolk engravers, who produced a greater number of these brasses. Some survive intact but more only in indent form. Others are known only through antiquarian notes, drawings or rubbings. Unlike the Yorkshire style of chalices, those in Norfolk and Suffolk are invariably depicted with a wafer. On some examples the wafer is plain and in other examples inscribed with a cross or other sacred monogram. Occasionally rays surround the wafer.



Some more elaborate chalice brasses are to be found in East Anglia and elsewhere. At Little Walsingham, Norfolk, the chalice is held by a pair of hands which issue from clouds, and Bawburgh, Norfolk, where only the thumbs are visible, grasping the lobes of the chalice foot. In some instances the chalice is “covered” by its paten, as North Mimms, Herts. Perhaps the most curious example is that at Holwell, Bedfordshire. The chalice with a wafer inscribed IHC and the inscription below form the principal part of the memorial, but above it on either side are depicted two small figures of wild men or “wodehouses” a rebus on the name of Robert Wodehouse, 1515.


The featured example at Rendham to Thomas King is unusual for an East Anglian example in that it depicts the chalice without the wafer. This may be because it does not appear to be from any of the main brass engraving workshops and may have been produced by someone whose main business was other than brass engraving. The inscription reads: Here lyeth Thomas Kyng sutyme vicar of this churche who died XXVI daye Aprile AD MCCCCCXXIII. Nothing more is known about him.

 



Copyright: Janet Whitham

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Page last updated 27 February 2006