Archaeological Journal/Volume 2/Notices of Ancient Ornaments, Vestments, and Appliances of Sacred Use



The student of mediæval antiquities is frequently embarrassed in the course of his enquiries by the want of systematically arranged information regarding the details of sacred, personal, or social usages of former times, especially in our own country. The most minute circumstances connected with the manners and customs of Pagan times have been fully set forth, and learned commentators have bestowed great labour in the investigation of the antiquities of Greece or Rome, devoting their especial attention to the ceremonies of idolatrous worship. The antiquities of the Christian Church do not appear to have been regarded as deserving of the like attention, and the details connected with sacred usages still, in great measure, remain in vague obscurity. From these details, however, trifling as they may appear to some persons, much valuable information may be gathered, scarcely less interesting to the student of ecclesiastical history, in their connexion with the progressive changes in ritual usages or ceremonial observances, from the times of primitive Christianity, than to the antiquary who is engaged only in researches into the history of Art. These considerations induce me to hope that the endeavour to supply some detailed notices of ancient ornaments of a sacred nature, especially as they were used in England, with illustrations selected wherever it may be practicable from English examples, may prove acceptable to the readers of the Archæological Journal.

The primitive origin of the use of the Pax is to be derived from the practice of the first ages of the Christian Church, when the faithful followed literally the injunction of St. Paul to the Corinthians, "greet ye one another with an holy kiss." This custom is mentioned by Tertullian, St. Clement of Alexandria, and Origenes: Athenagoras, in his Apology for the Christians, written about A.D. 166, speaks of the solemnity and grave demeanour with which this token of Christian charity was given. The manner in which the ceremony was performed is detailed in the following passage of the Apostolical Constitutions, cited by Dr. Milner in his Notice of the use of the Pax in the Roman Catholic Church[1]. "Let the Bishop salute the Church, and say. The peace of God be with you all: and let the people answer, And with thy spirit. Then let the Deacon say to all, Salute one another with an holy kiss: and let the Clergy kiss the Bishop, and the laymen the laymen, and the women the women[2]." During the early times, when men and women were placed in different parts of the church, this custom appears to have continued, and it is still observed among the officiating Clergy, as likewise among men and women of the different religious orders, in the more solemn service, called the High Mass. It is performed by the persons placing their hands upon each other's shoulders, and bringing their left cheeks nearly in contact with each other. The precise period when the use of the sacred instrument called a Pax was introduced, has not been clearly ascertained; some have considered it to have been in the time of Pope Innocent I., at the commencement of the fifth century, others have attributed the usage to an ordinance of Pope Leo II., A.D. 676; but Dr. Milner was of opinion that when the sexes began to be mixed together in the less solemn service, called the Low Mass, which seems to have begun to take place in the twelfth or thirteenth century, a sense of decorum dictated the use of this instrument, which was kissed first by the Priest, then by the Clerk, and lastly by the people who assisted at the service, instead of the former fraternal embrace.

No evidence has hitherto served to shew with precision at what time the use of the Pax became generally adopted in England. It is not included amongst the sacred ornaments of which an enumeration is found in the Glossary, attributed to Archbishop Ælfric, (Cott. MS. Julius, A. 11., f. 126 vo.,) nor is it mentioned in the list of the gifts of Bishop Leofric to Exeter Cathedral, in the times of the Confessor, preserved in a service-book which had belonged to that prelate, now in the Bodleian[3]. The precise import, however, of some Anglo- Saxon terms occurring in that inventory, does not appear to have been ascertained. Early in the succeeding century various ecclesiastical Constitutions were promulgated, in which the ornaments of churches are enumerated in detail, but no mention , of the Pax is found in the Constitutions of William de Bleys, Bishop of Worcester, which bear date A.D. 1229, or those of his successor Walter de Cantilupe, A.D. 1240[4].

In the Constitutions of Walter de Gray, Archbishop of York, A.D. 1250, mention is made of the "osculatorium[5]" and in those of John de Peccham, Archbishop of Canterbury, promulgated about the year A.D. 1280, it was ordained that the parishioners of every church in the diocese of Canterbury should be bound to provide certain service-books, vestments, vessels and ornaments of sacred use, amongst which occurs the "osculatorium[6];" it is included likewise in the ordinance of Archbishop Robert do Winchelsea, A.D. 1305, as part of the "supellex rei divinæ[7]." By the Synod of Exeter held 15 Edw. I., 1287, during the prelacy of Bishop Quivil, it was ordered that each parish church should be provided with the "asser ad pacem[8]." In the Acts of the Council of Merton, A.D. 1300, it is termed "tabula pacis," as likewise in the following entry in an inventory of precious effects of Edward I., taken in the same year, "una tabula pro pace, in capellâ Regis, cum platis argenti[9]."

The materials employed for the formation of the Pax, and other sacred ornaments, were as various as the symbolical devices introduced in their decoration. The most ancient example hitherto noticed, destined probably, as its form would indicate, to be used as a tabula pacis, is the precious tablet of lapis-lazuli, now preserved in the Salle des Bijoux at the Louvre, and formerly part of the treasures of the Royal Abbey of St. Denis. It appears to be of Greek workmanship, and presents on one side the figure of the Saviour, with that of the Blessed Virgin on the reverse, wrought in gold curiously inlaid upon the stone[10]. In the collection of enamels in the Louvre a remarkable Pax is to be seen, composed of an ornament originally intended, as it would appear, to serve as a morse, or brooch, used to fasten the cope in front upon the breast; it is ornamented with figures of the Virgin and the infant Saviour chased in high relief. In the possession of Dr. Rock there is also an enamelled morse which had been converted into a Pax by affixing it to a piece of wood which served as a handle: this ornament had probably formed part of the furniture of a parish church in Buckinghamshire, previously to the Reformation. The date of both these examples is about A.D. 1300. In the inventory of the treasures of St. Paul's Cathedral, A.D. 1298, given by Dugdale, is mentioned a "paxillum" covered with silver plates, "per circuitum triphoriatum auro," containing many relics[11]. The opus triphoriatum appears to have been a kind of filigree or pierced work, of which, owing to the intrinsic value of the metal employed, few examples are to be found. Amongst the bequests of Cardinal Beaufort, A.D. 1446, occurs a Pax of gold, "deosculatorium pacis de auro," and one little Pax of the like precious material was found in the treasury of Winchester Cathedral at the surrender. The list of sacred ornaments which apparently composed the furniture of the Royal Chapel, in the reign of Richard II., includes a "portepax tout d'or" of the most magnificent description, set with diamonds, pearls, and sapphires; the figure of the Saviour on the cross formed the principal subject. This remarkable Pax weighed 21bs. 41/2OZ.[12] Enamel is frequently mentioned as introduced in the decoration of this sacred instrument, as in the inventory of crown jewels, 3 Edw. III., 1329[13], and that of the treasury of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, 8 Rich. II., 1385, in which is described "una paxilla nobilis" of silver gilt and enamelled, with images of the crucifix, Mary and John. More ordinary materials, however, were commonly employed; thus in the inventory of goods of St. Dunstan's, Canterbury, A.D. 1500, occur "a pax borde of latin (yehow mixed metal) wt Marye and John: a crucyfyx for a pax borde off coper and gyltt[14]." Amongst the ornaments given by Archbishop Chichele to All Souls', Oxford, about A.D. 1460, are enumerated Paxes formed of glass[15]. The Pax was very frequently of wood, painted and gilt; such a wooden Pax, of the workmanship of the later part of the fifteenth century, is in the writer's possession. It is probable that in some cases the instrument, was called, on account of the material thus employed, a "pax borde—paxbrede—pakysbred," &c., but mention is repeatedly made of pax hordes of metal, and the term board, according to its derivation from Aug. Sax. bræde, was properly used to imply a broad or tabular surface of either metal or wood.

The subjects most commonly introduced as the principal decoration of the Pax are the Crucifixion, with the Virgin and St. John standing at the sides of the Cross; the representation of the Trinity; the Annunciation, Adoration of the Magi, the Baptism of the Saviour, the Mater dolorosa, and occasionally figures of Saints, as St. Martin, St. Sebastian, &c. in allusion, probably, to the Saint in honour of whom the church, where such ornaments were used, had been dedicated.

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Pax. New College, Oxford, with a Section, shewing the profile of the handle.

Amongst the curious ornaments preserved at New College, Oxford, comprising the remains of the precious mitre bequeathed by the Founder, a pontifical ring and other relics, a Pax of silver parcel-gilt is to be seen, of which a representation is here given, as an example of the usual form of this instrument and the adjustment of its handle.

It measures 51/2 in. by 3 in. and one tenth. The character of ornament indicates that it was fabricated about the times of Henry VI., or perhaps rather later in the fifteenth century. The ornamental border composed of the ragged staff, or bâton, escotté, occurs frequently in illuminations of that period. The Pax, of which Dr. Milner gave a representation in the Archæologia, supplies another example, presenting likewise the subject of the Crucifixion; it had been preserved by the Roman Catholics in the neighbourhood of Wolverhampton, with other objects of sacred use which had escaped the general prohibition at the time of the Reformation.

On the second seal of St. Bernard the Pax is singularly introduced, as it would seem, with some symbolical import. It appears by his letters to Pope Eugenius III. in the year 1151, that he had been obliged, in consequence of forgeries of his seal, to cause a new one to be made bearing his figure and name. The matrix is now preserved in the Museum of Antiquities at Rouen, and a representation of it has been published, with a descriptive notice by M. Deville. The abbot of Clairvaulx appears in this portraiture in the monastic dress, his head tonsured and bare, for St. Bernard strongly reprobated the vain desire of abbots in his times to assume the mitre: in his left hand he bears a pastoral staff with a plain crook, and in his right hand an object which, there can be little doubt, was intended to represent the Pax with the handle usually adapted to it: Mabillon, however, supposed this object to be a book, and M. Deville at first conjectured that it might be a church door[16].

Le Brun, as Dr. Milner stated in the observations to which reference has been made, attributed the general disuse of the Pax to certain jealousies which were found to arise amongst individuals about priority in having it presented to them[17]. This remark may deserve notice as affording an illustration of the passage in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, where speaking of the seven deadly sins and of pride, the general root from which they spring, he says, "ther is a privee spice of pride, that waiteth first to be salewed, or he wol salew, all be he lesse worthy than that other is; and eke he waiteth to sit, or to go above him in the way, or kisse the Pax, or ben encensed, or gon to offring before his neighbour, and swiche semblable thinges[18]." The Pax was not amongst those ornaments of churches which were at first suppressed at the Reformation. Its use was prescribed by the Royal Ecclesiastical Commissioners of Edward VI., and even rendered more ostensible than it had previously been, as appears by the Injunctions published at the deanery of Doncaster, A.D. 1548, ordaining that "the Clarke shall bring down the Paxe, and, standing without the church-door, shall say loudly to the people these words, This is a token of joyful peace, which is betwixt God and men's conscience: Christ alone is the peace-maker, which straitly commands peace between brother and brother. And so long as ye use these ceremonies, so long shall ye use these significations[19]." ALBERT WAY.

  1. Archæologia, vol. xx. p. 534.
  2. Const. Apost., lib. viii. c. 11, apud Coteller, p. 345. The term Pax appears occasionally to have been used to denote not only the instrument, but the act of salutation. In the Promptorium Parvulorum are given "Pax, of kyssynge, osculum pacis. Pax brede, osculatorium."
  3. MS. Bibl. Bodl. Auct. D. 2, 16. This curious list of sacred ornaments and vestments has been printed by Dugdale, Mon. 1. 221.
  4. Wilkins, Conc. I. pp. 623, 666.
  5. Concil. Labbei, tom. xi. p. 1438.
  6. Wilkins, Cone. II. 49.
  7. Lyndw. Provinciale, edit. 1679, p. 252.
  8. Wilkins, Cone. II. 139.
  9. Liber Garderobæ, p. 351.
  10. Dom Millet, Tresor Sacré de S. Denis, 1638, p. 95.
  11. Another instance of the use of relics in this manner occurs in one of the Exchequer inventories, 18 Edw. III. "Unam pacem deosculator' in quâ continentur reliquie diversorum sanctorum." Kalend. Exch. III. 207.
  12. Kalend. of Exch. III., 314.
  13. "j. pax deosculator' arg' aym' cum uno crucifixo." Archæol., vol. x. p. 250.
  14. In this instance the crucifix appears to have been used in place of the tablet, the usual form of the Pax. At Durham Abbey the cover of the Textus, or Book of the Gospels, served as a Pax. Antiqu. of Durham, p. 11.
  15. "vj. paxys de vitro." Gutch, Coll. Cur. II. 257.
  16. "Je crois y reconnaître une porte d' église, divisée en deux ventaux par une colonnette qui est surmontée de son chapiteau."—Bulletin de la Société d'Emulation de Rouen, 1838.
  17. Expl. literale de la Messe. 1. 595.
  18. Persone's Tale; de vij. Peccatis.
  19. Burnet's History of the Reformation, Records, Book 1, no. xxi. See further, on the subject of the use of the Pax, the Hierolexicon, by Dom. and Car. Macer, Romæ, 1677; Durandi Ration. Div. Off. c. de pacis osculo; and De Vert, Explic. des Cerem. de l'Eglise, tome iii.