The hoard consisted of four brooches, a stemmed cup and a highly elaborate chalice which contained all of the smaller items.
|Annular brooch, Ardagh Hoard|
The chalice belongs to a special group of cups known as ‘calices ministrales’, or in other words, chalices used by minor clergymen and lay people before the Catholic Church lifted restrictions on communion for both groups. During mass it would have been filled with Eucharistic wine, which the priest then dispensed to the congregation. At the time of its construction it would have been considered to be an old fashioned style, similar to Byzantine and Western Chalices.
So, why is this chalice so special, apart from the fact that it’s quite old? Because its construction and decoration shows incredible skill highly uncommon for that period of history, that’s why! Although large for a Eucharistic chalice, it is actually quite small, measuring seven inches in height and nine and a half inches in diameter, with the bowl being four inches deep. Within these reasonably small measurements there are a total of 354 different parts, six different types of metal (gold, silver, bronze, brass, copper and lead), small amounts of various other precious materials (glass, amber, malachite and rock crystal), and 48 different designs.
The decorative detail on the Ardagh Chalice is the most important aspect of it, and makes it the most beautiful Irish artefact ever to have been discovered. Everything from engravings, animals, interlaced patterns, and Greek bands feature in the design as well as exquisite ornamentation, known as repouseé and filigree wirework.