Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The term liturgy refers to the rites and ceremonies prescribed by the Eastern and Western Church for communal worship. The central focus of the liturgy is the Eucharist, in which Christians take consecrated wine and bread in commemoration of the Last Supper and Christ’s death. While liturgical practices were codified gradually over several centuries and varied locally, eucharistic vessels for the bread and wine, the paten, and the chalice remained indispensable (1986.3.1-15; 47.101.26; 47.101.27; 47.101.28). The liturgy in both the Eastern and Western Church necessitated a variety of additional objects such as books, often richly decorated (17.190.134), for prayers, music, and Old and New Testament readings (1992.238); crosses for the altar and to be carried in procession (63.12; 1993.163); censers for the burning of incense; and lighting devices for the sanctuary (2002.483.7).
Because of their sacred function, liturgical objects were often crafted of the most precious materials. In a written account of Justinian’s famed sixth-century church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, one author tells of hundreds of vessels and furnishings made of pure gold with pearls and precious stones. Emulating the splendors of Byzantium in his lavish commissions for the royal abbey church of Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Abbot Suger exclaimed in the 1140s:
If golden pouring vessels, golden vials, golden little mortars used to serve … to collect the blood of goats or calves, how much more must golden vessels, precious stones, and whatever is most valued … be laid out … for the reception of the blood of Christ! Surely, neither we nor our possessions suffice for this service.
Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. “Art for the Christian Liturgy in the Middle Ages.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/litu/hd_litu.htm (October 2001)
Lasko, Peter. Ars Sacra, 800–1200. 2d ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.
McLachlan, Elizabeth Parker. "Liturgical Vessels and Implements." In The Liturgy of the Medieval Church, edited by Thomas J. Heffernan and E. Ann Matter, pp. 369–429. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2001.
Additional Essays by Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters
- Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. “Classical Antiquity in the Middle Ages.” (October 2001)
- Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. “Private Devotion in Medieval Christianity.” (October 2001)
- Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. “The Art of the Book in the Middle Ages.” (October 2001)
- Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. “The Crusades (1095–1291).” (originally published October 2001, last revised February 2014)
- Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. “The Cult of the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages.” (October 2001)
- Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. “Stained Glass in Medieval Europe.” (October 2001)
- The Art of the Book in the Middle Ages
- The Cult of the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages
- Monasticism in Western Medieval Europe
- Pilgrimage in Medieval Europe
- Private Devotion in Medieval Christianity
- Art and Death in Medieval Byzantium
- Art and Death in the Middle Ages
- The Art of Ivory and Gold in Northern Europe around 1000 A.D.
- The Byzantine State under Justinian I (Justinian the Great)
- Byzantium (ca. 330–1453)
- Classical Antiquity in the Middle Ages
- The Crucifixion and Passion of Christ in Italian Painting
- Gothic Art
- Jews and the Arts in Medieval Europe
- Late Medieval German Sculpture: Images for the Cult and for Private Devotion
- Life of Jesus of Nazareth
- Manuscript Illumination in Italy, 1400–1600
- The Master of Monte Oliveto (active about 1305–35)
- Medieval Aquamanilia
- Mendicant Orders in the Medieval World
- Painting in Italian Choir Books, 1300–1500
- Relics and Reliquaries in Medieval Christianity
- Balkan Peninsula, 1000–1400 A.D.
- Balkan Peninsula, 500–1000 A.D.
- Central Europe (including Germany), 1000–1400 A.D.
- Central Europe (including Germany), 500–1000 A.D.
- Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, 1000–1400 A.D.
- Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, 500–1000 A.D.
- France, 1000–1400 A.D.
- France, 500–1000 A.D.
- Great Britain and Ireland, 1000–1400 A.D.
- Great Britain and Ireland, 500–1000 A.D.
- Iberian Peninsula, 1000–1400 A.D.
- Iberian Peninsula, 500–1000 A.D.
- 10th Century A.D.
- 11th Century A.D.
- 12th Century A.D.
- 13th Century A.D.
- 6th Century A.D.
- 7th Century A.D.
- 8th Century A.D.
- 9th Century A.D.
- Architectural Element
- Biblical Scene
- Central Europe
- Coptic Art
- Gilt Copper
- Gilt Silver
- The Last Supper
- Madonna and Child
- Medieval Art
- Religious Art
- West Asia