A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
The Balfe Chalice 1793
by Richard Barton (1994)
In the possession of the Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes, Kingswood, is a late eighteenth century silver chalice. Whilst there are many fine examples of Anglican church plate from this period, sacred vessels used by English Catholics are far more unusual and one may wonder how it came into the hands of a parish which was only established in 1937.
Clearly this chalice was originally manufactured for Catholic usage as it bears an engraved crucifix, unusual in its design, and an inscription which is also Catholic in provenance:
O JESUM MISERICORDIARUM, JESU DATOR UNERUM PROPITIUS ESTO ANIMABUS WALTERII ET ELEONORA BALFE, ALIAS FRENCH, AMEN. A.D. 1793
(O Jesus of Mercies, Jesus favourable giver of gifts be gracious to the souls of Walter and Eleanor Balfe, alais French. Amen. A.D. 1793)
At that time Anglican would have tended to use Communion Cups which had far larger dimensions to the chalice as it was only with the Ritualist Movement of the nineteenth century hat Anglican communicants started to sip rather than drink deeply at their Eucharistic celebrations.
Before the late eighteenth century English Catholics would have worshipped in private and during the seventeenth century chalices were often made to come to pieces so that they could be more easily concealed. The goldsmith dared not put his mark on them, let alone take them to be assayed, so that they are now difficult to date. From the seventeenth century only chalices, patens and pyxes survive but after 1700 life became less hazardous for Catholics as a result of the Catholic Relief Acts, and a full range of contemporary Catholic plate survives, most of it hallmarked. The museum at Oscott College, Birmingham contains a number of fine examples and there is also another very early example of a chalice, surprisingly, in the possession of St Gregory’s College in Bath.
During the summer of 1791 the Second Catholic Relief Act took effect which permitted Catholics to build churches (without bells or steeples) provided that these places of worship were certified by the local Justices of the Peace. Their services were not to be held (as was often the case in penal times) behind locked, barred or bolted doors and provisions were made against people who disturbed Catholic worship.
Whilst Catholic chapels had previously existed attached to private houses, such as at Horton Court, near to Chipping Sodbury, some purpose-built chapels had also been opened in such places as Worcester (1765, Bath (1780) and Trenchard Street, Bristol (1790), but those associated with them ran the risk of persecution or hostility from the mob. During the time of the Gordon Riots the chapel at Bath was burnt to the ground.
The 1791 Act legalized the building of chapels and, within a year of it coming into effect, chapels were erected in Gloucester and Hereford, followed by ones in Oxford and then Monmouth in 1793. The Monmouth chapel was permitted by the local magistrates only on condition that it did not look like a church, it was screened from the public gaze and was not entered by worshippers more than one at a time.
New chapels would naturally have resulted in the manufacture of sacred vessels for use in them. The Kingswood chalice is hallmarked and from this we know that it was manufactured in Dublin in 1792, the year following the Second Relief Act and the year before the inscription indicates it was consecrated for use. The Maker’s mark suggests that it was possibly the work of William Bond of Dublin. What we do not know is whether the chalice was commissioned for use in an Irish or English context as both countries were subject to the same legislation. Sadly, the names have so far not assisted in solving the puzzle. The names do not appear to be local and, furthermore, they do not appear among the obituary notices published in contemporary editions of the English Laity Directory. However, there were members of the Balfe Family in Dublin during the late eighteenth century.
Whilst it is possible that this chalice was made for use in the Bath, Bristol or Horton missions and was then passed on to Kingswood when the church was opened there, or later at Warmley, it is probably far more likely that it was brought to Kingswood from an Irish parish by one of the Oblate Fathers. Until very recently this chalice was used every Sunday at Warmley, but even though it is probably not of any great financial value, its age and rarity mean that it should be carefully preserved. Perhaps we can remember to pray for the souls of Walter and Eleanor Balfe in whose memory this chalice was first given.
Catholicism returned to Kingswood when a small community of priests of the Redemptorist Order established a temporary church in Park Lane in 1901. The mission grew but received a hostile reception and was closed in 1911. The iron church was moved to Forest Road, Fishponds.