Limoges enamel pyx
Sunday, 7 June, is the Feast of Corpus Christi, the celebration of the Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the day when the Holy Mass and the institution of the Eucharist are commemorated. It is one of the major holidays of the Catholic Church, celebrated on the Sunday following Trinity Sunday.
On this occasion, in June we present the oldest pyx of the exhibition of the Treasury. Originally, it was an item of the Arnold Ipolyi collection, and so it is due to lending by the Christian Museum that it can be displayed now at the exhibition of the Cathedral Treasury.
The small receptacle made in copper is closed by a conical lid topped with a cross. Both the container part and the lid are decorated with enamel inlay technique. The ornamental motif is floral ornamentation: a rhythmically repeating pattern of a quadrilobate flower and a star, and vines ending in leaves, in front of an ash-blue background.
This small pyx was presumably made in the city of Limoges, France, in the second half of the 13th century. Limoges was an important ecclesiastical centre of the Duchy of Aquitaine and had also been an important centre of smithery already for about a century, where objects used mostly for liturgical purposes were produced by lay workshops. These objects included processional and altar crosses, bishop’s crooks, ciboria, jugs, platters, censers, but larger objects used as church ornaments as well, such as the decoration and the overlay of altars and reliquaries. The distinctive feature of the fittings from Limoges was the lavish enamel decoration, inlaid into engraved recesses on the bronze or copper object, previously shaped by hammering. (The enamel paste mixed with various metal oxides was put into these recesses. Then the object was fired in a kiln in the order required for the different colours and finally the surface was polished smooth.) Liturgical objects made in Limoges got to Hungary probably after the Mongol Invasion as imported articles.
The tradition of reserving the Eucharist dates back to the period of Early Christianity, but its keeping in the church became general only from the Middle Ages. In this period, the Sacrament was reserved in a small box in a niche called the pastoforium, built specially for this purpose, in a tower, or a vessel in the form of a dove suspended over the altar. The workshops of Limoges mentioned earlier also made pyxes in the form of a dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit.
The use of the pyx (from Greek-Latin pyxis) appeared in the 9th century. Pyxes are small round or polygonal lidded vessels with a central shape, which were later mounted on a base for easier handling. A pyx on a base is called a ciborium. The earliest ciboria date back to the 13th century. Their structure, consisting of a cylindrical body, a conical lid, a simple stem, a ribbed node and a lobed base is very similar to that of the chalices of the age.
© Cathedral Treasury