A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

Fairford Plate

Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, Horcott, Fairford

When I was first appointed as Parish Priest of Fairford with Cricklade in 1998 I was eager to examine the parish plate as I hoped that it might offer a tangible link with the old Hatherop mission from which the parish was spiritually descended. I was not disappointed because within the safe was a battered cylindrical box containing a fine silver gilt chalice with cherubs on the stem and engraved with a crucifix. Discovering this chalice certainly intrigued me and I was disappointed to find no written account of its provenance. As the years went by I was able to discover more about the plate at Fairford and acquire further items to add to the collection. I feel that something of this story should be shared with members of the Catholic History Society as such items are often vulnerable and have in the past been disposed of by priests without proper consultation.

No discussion of the Fairford plate can be made without mentioning the support and encouragement that I received from Mrs Philippa Hunter, a member of our Society. Not only did she lovingly clean the items but she also organized for some, their repair and restoration. Over a period of time she took many items to experts who have commented on their stories and she has even made trips to the Victoria and Albert Museum to seek advice there. Not only did she care for the silver but she also sought expert advice about the vestments too. These included an alb, which it is believed was worn by Cardinal Newman when he celebrated his first Mass. The parish is greatly indebted to Philippa Hunter not only for selflessly giving up her time but also for her sheer enthusiasm for and love for its patrimony.

Returning to the chalice, which I discovered on my arrival, Philippa took it to the Victoria and Albert Museum in December 2001 where she consulted Sophie Lee who examined the object. She dated it to around 1730 and suggested that it might be of Portuguese origin. The box itself was also identified as dating from either the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Having heard this report I felt justified in christening this chalice ‘The Hatherop Chalice’.

The other two chalices at Fairford were much more modern. The first, the Cosgrove Chalice, was made in 1942 by Smith & Sons of Dublin and was engraved on the base with the words ‘Calice Burgo exemplar 1494 (an example of the de Burgo Chalice of 1494) Thomas Grerardo Cosgrove Sacerdoti Parentes dono dederunt dom IV post Pent 1942.’ The second, given in memory of a former parish priest, was the Coglan Chalice and paten, hallmarked in 1987/1988 and made of silver gilt with garnets on the stem. The inscription engraved on the base read ‘Fr James Coglan, Fairford 1976-1979’.

The only other items of interest at Fairford were an unusual small French monstrance made of gilded copper wrought into a grape design with wooden infill in the base and a second monstrance which was thought to be late nineteenth century and of German origin. In fact John Downes-Hall of Lechlade, a restorer of Church plate, wondered if it might have been smuggled out of Germany in pieces during the war. He thought that originally it almost certainly had an inner circle of jewels around the lunette. Arranged around the lunette now are four Nielo (silver gilt dipped in oil) figures of the evangelists which were possibly been added to it at a later date.

Another interesting item at Fairford was a mother of pearl baptismal shell, believed to be French and engraved with a scene of the Epiphany and the words ‘Rei Magi’ together with a mark of a wheatsheaf.

You are probably thinking that this constitutes little for such an historic mission but this was soon to change for during the summer of 1998 the Convent of St Clotilde was to close and its contents dispersed. The community had run a school at Lechlade Manor for nearly sixty years and before that the sisters had been at Eltham where they settled having left France in the early 1900s. The sacristy at Lechlade Manor contained a large walk-in safe and, as the last chaplain to the convent, I quickly became acquainted with its contents. When it was finally announced that the sisters were leaving, the superior, Sister Marie Agnes, asked me to personally oversee the dispersal of the contents of the sacristy to new homes where they would be used and appreciated. The chalice belonging to Father Bilsborrow, a former chaplain, was given to the parish of St Catharine of Alexandria at Chipping Campden where he served as Parish Priest for many years. Other items went to neighbouring parishes but the bulk of the plate and vestments went to St Thomas’s Church in Fairford. I was anxious for such items to be used regularly and cherished and during my time as Parish Priest we did just that. All the chalices and ciboria were cleaned, repaired and used. Even though these items were photographed and security-marked it is unfortunate that nowadays such items can only be stored in vaults and treasuries and, of course, this prevents the regular use for which they were intended.

The whole collection reflects the French background of the Order and many of the items are beautiful in their own right and deserve to be recorded. Fortunately most of the collection was preserved in original boxes. The most important of these articles include:

St Clotilde’s Chalice and Paten: Early 19th century French silver gilt with a platinum circulate on the base and bowl. Made by D.F. Brothers and of fine quality.

Enamelled Chalice, Paten and matching Ciborium: Late 19th century French silver gilt with inscriptions set in blue enamel: Chalice ‘Hic est enim calyx sanguinis mei’ on the bowl and ‘Calicem salutaris accipiam et nomen Domini invocabo’ on the base.

John Downes-Hall of Lechlade extensively repaired this chalice in 2001. The paten has an Agnus Dei design on the base. The ciborium was inscribed with the words: ‘Hic est panis qui de caelo descendi’ and with ‘Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollis peccata mundi’ on the bowl and ‘Panem coelestem accipiam et nomen Domini invocabo’ on the base.

The St Clotilde’s Ciborium: French silver gilt with its bowl set in leaves and engraved on the base with the legend – ’16 aout 1898 Quid retribuam Domino’

Marie de Gagny Ciborium: French silver gilt with red and blue enamel discs on the lid and base. The inscription around the bowl read, ‘Ecce panis angelorum factus cibus viatorum’. Engraved on the base is the following legend ‘Seigneur Jesus ayez pitie de votre enfant … Marie de Gagny 30 nov 1868’ (sic).

The Restored Ciborium: French silver gilt with a new inner bowl made in 2001. Engraved around the edge of the outer bowl: ‘Et verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis’. At some time this had been adapted into an open ciborium but when some of the missing components were discovered it was returned to its original form in 2001 by John Downes-Hall.

St Clotilde’s Exposition Ciborium with lunette: A French silver gilt container etched with a crown of thorns by Cabaret with a date of approximately 1838-40.

St Clotilde’s Ampullae: A boxed set of two glass cruets with gilt handles and lids, one with grapes and the other lilies, on an oval fitted tray. French 1860s.

Besides these pieces others include a splendid and ornate nineteenth century boxed monstrance and a boxed pontifical set containing a matching set of silver-plated ampullae (cruets) together with a tray, cochlear (spoon), bugia (bishop’s candle) and ewer and basin. In addition St Thomas’s Parish received a fine processional cross, thurible, boat and stand and much else besides.

In 2002, the Benedictine Convent at Fernham near Faringdon closed and I purchased various vestments and requisites from the community for the parish and for myself. In addition Sister Lucy gave me a fine purple vestment which I have since passed to Douai Abbey and she also gave me a wonderful ciborium which I decided should go to Cricklade where I used it regularly for Sunday Mass. The ciborium came from their previous house at Princethorpe in Warwickshire. In many ways I now regret that this important papal gift was not returned to Princethorpe where the beautiful chapel has recently been carefully restored. The ciborium is made of Italian silver and has a Papal tiara and cross keys on the foot. It is inscribed on the base in Italian: A Leone XIII La Parrocchia Di San Simeone Profeta in Venezia MDCCCLXXXVII. (To Leo XIII the Parish of St Simeon the Prophet in Venice 1887) On the bowl: Leo P.P. XIII Sanctimonialibus B.M. de Princethorpe (Pope Leo X111 to the Nuns of Princethorpe)

It is wonderful that St Thomas’s parish has such an interesting collection of plate and even though security demands that it should not now be housed within the parish I hope that it will be loved and cherished by future generations of clergy and parishioners alike.

Richard Barton

Parish Priest 1998-2004

2 comments on “Fairford Plate

  1. Jean pikett
    January 31, 2018

    I have very much enjoyed reading this article about
    Fairford church
    My ancestors came from ampney st peter/st mary

    • Richard Barton
      January 31, 2018

      This blog site has a number of articles relating to local Church history mainly centred around St Thomas’s RC Church, Fairford, Hatherop Castle and St Clotilde’s Convent at Lechlade. Thanks for your comments. Richard

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