We often think of our great medieval churches as ancient sites but, in fact, many are still working buildings with an active daily program of worship. York Minster has been a place of prayer and pilgrimage for over 1,400 years, as well as a site for visitors, communities, concert goers and more. Today it continues to function in a variety of roles, for a wide range of people. Just one of the ways it does this is by continuing to work with skilled artists and craftspeople, acting as a patron for new and exciting works of art.
Stand in the Nave during the week: you will see one of York Minster’s major, modern artistic patronage projects on the high altar, the Millennium Silver. The altar cross and candlesticks are part of a full set of silver used for daily worship. The set also includes a cross and two candle-holders for processions, a pair of ciboria (cup-shaped containers with lids to hold and distribute the Communion wafers), four chalices (cups for serving the Communion wine), a paten (a special plate to hold the consecrated wafer) and an alms dish to collect donations. Funded by The Friends of York Minster, this large commission was an exciting way to mark the Millennium. The silver shows us the dual nature of much of the Minster’s collection: they are important objects cared for by the Minster’s collections team but are also highly functional and fulfill a vital role in the daily life of the Church.
Six highly-regarded silversmiths were selected to create pieces for the set. Many of these pieces, though contemporary in design, were made by hand using traditional methods and techniques that are as old as the use of church silver itself. Just like the restoration and conservation efforts on the Great East Window by the York Glazier’s Trust, or the ongoing embroidery work by the Minster Broderers, the Millennium Silver project continued the tradition of highly skilled artists and craftspeople shaping the way we experience York Minster.
The cross and candlesticks have enough visual presence to be seen from the far end of the Nave, but also reveal finer details as you get closer to the altar - qualities that are common amongst the other pieces in the set. The pieces are dynamic: the highly reflective nature of silver makes them appear fluid and, as the light moves through the Nave throughout the day, or as pieces are moved, different facets of the silver catch the light and sparkle and shine in new ways. The polished surfaces reflect the interior of the Minster, as colours in the glazing and sculpted forms in the stone can be seen in the surfaces of the silver.
The silver then is symbolic of the Minster itself: more than just a beautiful object, it is a working, dynamic and living thing - playing different roles for different people every day.
By Lindsay Kearney, Digital Content Volunteer