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Ardagh Chalice

Ardagh Chalice
Ardagh Chalice

In September 1868, a young man named Quin was digging potatoes at the south-western side of a Rath (fort) called Reerasta, beside the village of Ardagh and near the Carrickerry road. When he reached the bank close to a thorn bush he found the surface soft, and driving his spade down between the roots of the thorn, he found it strike something hard. He cleared away the earth and found a beautiful cup now known as the Ardagh chalice. In the cup there was a smaller one made of bronze and five fibulae.
There is nothing known of the history of this precious relic of a lost art, or how it came to be buried in the Rath. It is suggested that it is one of the valuable cups that were stolen from Clonmacnois, in the year 1125, by a Limerick Dane, who was captured and hanged the following year.

Tradition says that Mass used to be said in the Rath where they were found, in the penal times. The chalice may have been used on these occasions to distribute communion to the multitude that assembled there. Perhaps when the alarm was given, and in the hurry of the moment, the chalice were hidden to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. This would be supported by the condition in which they were found, there being no case or covering to protect them suggests that they were buried in a hurry. The priest or person who placed them in the earth, may never have had an opportunity of returning to the place to retrieve them.

The Ardagh Chalice is considered to be the finest specimen of Celtic art ever yet found. It has two handles and was probably used for the communion of the laity when the Eucharist was administered under the species of bread and wine. This cup, which combines classic beauty with the most exquisite examples of almost every variety of Celtic orna- mentation, is 7 inches high and 9.5 inches in diameter. The foot is 6.5 inches in diameter, the depth of the bowl is 4.5. Inches; it would contain three pints of liquid. It is composed of gold, silver, bronze, brass, copper, and lead and comprises 354 pieces, including 20 rivets. There is a beautiful band running round the outside of the bowl on which is engraved the names of the twelve Apostles.

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