San Donnino’s chalice

A German chalice with extraordinary powers

  • embossed silver with gold details, with parts made by fusion
  • 12th to 13th century
  • German goldsmith’s

 

The chalice was used to hold wine during Mass celebrations.

The curved handles are finely decorated and create a remarkable contrast with the smooth bowl. They represent wyverns, winged reptiles similar to dragons, for ornamental and symbolic purposes.

Due to its aggressive and monstrous appearance, the dragon was seen in medieval Europe as a symbol of the enemy to be fought, the darkness that resides in every heart and in the world. The dragons are on the handles because the priest holds them in his hands during the Eucharistic celebration and thus makes them harmless. For the same reason the “knot” connecting the cup to its pedestal is also decorated with dragons.

The composition and details of the decoration suggest a German origin. This cup may have been donated to the Cathedral by some wealthy German on the via Francigena, the  pilgrimage route to Rome.

In 1207 a tooth of Donnino, patron saint of Fidenza, was inserted into the “knot”: the chalice thus became also a reliquary. It continued to be used for Mass, as it is still today.

The chalice was believed to have healing powers: it was used to give holy water and wine to pilgrims and faithful bitten by venomous animals.

San Donnino is still invoked in Fidenza against the bite of reptiles and rabid dogs. According to tradition Donnino was able to heal a man from rabies by giving him to drink water and wine that he had blessed.

IN-DEPTH BOX

Wyvern: A legendary creature very similar to a dragon, belonging to the European tradition. The wyvern looks like a winged reptile with a hooked tail. It usually does not spit fire and is rather small in size. The hook at the end of its tail can inject lethal or paralysing venom. Wyverns represent the dark forces of evil that live in the human heart and in the world.

 

Via Francigena: A pilgrimage route made of a series of roads which connected Canterbury to Rome and eventually proceeded toward the Apulia region. The Via Francigena is still travelled today by pilgrims wanting to reach sacred places.