When acquired by the Museum, the objects were in a good state of preservation. The surfaces, with their decoration worked in relief (repoussé) and engraved detail, had not been altered by overcleaning, and only two of the chalices (1986.3.2 and 1986.3.3) showed signs of having been partially reshaped. Some calcareous deposits and products of corrosion—evidence of their burial—remained on the exterior and had to be removed, but the vessels have not been polished further, and the original burnishing marks are still visible.
These well-wrought liturgical objects—chalices, censers, a strainer, and a representation of the dove of the Holy Spirit—were among the possessions of a Christian church in the affluent merchant town of Attarouthi in Syria, then one of the richest lands of the Byzantine Empire. The chalices, censers, and strainer were used for the Divine Liturgy, or Eucharist, in which Christians take consecrated wine and bread in commemoration of the Last Supper and Christ’s death. According to their inscriptions, written in Greek with several spelling variants, many of the objects were offerings of local citizens to the major church of the town, which was dedicated to Saint Stephen, and to a smaller church dedicated to Saint John (probably Saint John the Forerunner [the Baptist]). In the early seventh century Syria fell first to the Sasanian Persians and then to the armies of Islam. These works were probably buried in haste in a protective container at some moment when the Byzantine army was retreating from attacks on the region.
Church in Attarouthi, Syria; [ Elias Bustros, Beirut (by 1940)]; Sleiman Abou Taam, Beirut and Switzerland (1965–1986)
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