HERITAGE TREASURES

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HERITAGE TREASURES

In August 2017 a small silver-gilt Recusant chalice was returned to the Archdiocese of Hobart from the Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission (MDHC), bringing to a close an absence of some fifty-eight years. The term Recusant was applied to those English Catholics who, following the Reformation, refused to attend Divine Service in the Church of England. This resulted in civil and, in the early period, criminal penalties. Masses were celebrated in secret for these Recusants by priests who were under penalty of death for treason should they be discovered and apprehended. The return of the chalice to Hobart came about as a result of research to positively identify it, of generous cooperation by Rachel Naughton, MDHC Archivist, and of the ready agreement of His Grace Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne.

In 1959 the chalice had been sold to Melbourne silversmiths J.W. Steeth & Son to be melted down for its value in old silver. The firm was at that time being run by Maurice Steeth and it would have been he who recognised some significance in the old chalice and decided on restoring it rather than melting it down. At some point Steeth handed the restored chalice over to the MDHC.

The key to the identity of the chalice is an engraving on its foot of the Sacred Monogram IHS surmounted by a cross, over a pierced heart and three nails. These engraved details are not evident on English chalices before or beyond the Recusant period, but appear on patens and pyxes from the same era as the Hobart chalice, giving it a date of around 1650. It seems feasible to speculate that it belonged to Bishop Willson and would have been brought by him from Nottingham to Tasmania in 1844, particularly given that he owned a Recusant pyx. The chalice, being most likely Willson’s own, might have been kept and used for the daily private Mass in the chapel at his residence in Macquarie Street, being supplanted by a very rare medieval chalice of c.1480 that he purchased from Selim, Dean & Co. of London in 1847, and which he then began to use at home. Sadly, this latter treasure accompanied him to England in 1865 and is now at Ampleforth Abbey, Yorkshire.