Height: 12.500 cm
P&EE 1975 10-2 6
Room 49: Roman Britain
Cup from the Water Newton treasure
Roman Britain, 4th century AD
Water Newton, Cambridgeshire
The earliest Christian silver yet found in the Roman Empire
This cup is part of a hoard of silver vessels and plaques which forms the earliest group of Christian liturgical silver yet found in the Roman Empire. It was discovered in a recently ploughed field at Water Newton, Cambridgeshire, the Roman town of Durobrivae, in February 1975. The hoard was much damaged by the plough. It consists of nine vessels, a number of silver votive plaques, and a gold disc.
Though the form of this handled cup, or cantharus, resembles later Christian chalices, we cannot make any assumptions about the function of the vessel. It has no inscriptions. However, many of the objects in the hoard bear the monogram formed by the Greek letters chi (X) and rho (P), the first two letters of Christ's name, a symbol commonly used by early Christians. Two bowls and one plaque have longer inscriptions in Latin. One of these, on a bowl, can be translated as 'I, Publianus, honour your sacred shrine, trusting in you, 0 Lord.' Other inscriptions give the names of three female dedicators: Amcilla, Innocentia and Viventia, who must also have belonged to the congregation.
Individual pieces in the treasure were probably made at different times and in different places, and it is impossible to establish accurately the date at which they were hidden. The treasure may have been hidden in response to specific persecution of Christians or to more general political instability.
K.S. Painter, 'The Water Newton Silver: votive or liturgical?', Journal of the British Archa-1, 152 (1999), pp. 1-23
K.S. Painter, The Water Newton early Christi (London, The British Museum Press, 1977)