Communion cup and cover

This communion cup was created by Richard Hilliard. Father of the renowned Elizabethan portrait miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, Richard was a highly skilled craftsman himself. He worked within a community of goldsmiths in Exeter, based primarily around the Guildhall and Broadgate areas.

The son of Cornish goldsmith John Hilliard, Richard was born c.1520. He was apprenticed to John Wall then admitted to Freedom in 1546, having satisfied his master that he had learned the trade to an acceptable standard. Goldsmithing enjoyed high status as a craft. Like many involved in the trade Richard was an influential citizen who owned considerable property in Exeter. He held several important civic positions, serving as a Bailiff, a Common Councillor and later Sheriff.

The evolution of the goldsmith’s trade during the 16th century was shaped by the wider transformations occurring in Tudor society; the Protestant Reformation had significant implications for Exeter’s craftsmen. King Henry VIII had broken away from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 when Richard was a young man. Richard, along with many of his fellow tradesmen, was a firm supporter of the new Protestant Church. When riots broke out in Exeter following King Edward VI’s introduction of a new Protestant Prayer Book in 1549, Richard supported the reform and helped to defend the city against the dissenters.

Edward VI’s new Prayer Book was one of the many alterations made to the way church services were held following the Reformation. Before this period, goldsmiths had relied heavily on the Church for business, creating items such as Catholic chalices for Mass. However, changes in religious ideology led to the destruction of Catholic items of worship in favour of Protestant furnishings. As Holy Communion replaced Mass, chalices were melted down, offering goldsmiths a profitable opportunity to re-design ecclesiastical plate for Devon’s churches.

In the 1570s, new Protestant Communion Cups were fashioned, including this one made by Richard, c.1572 for St Peter’s Church in Bramford Speke. The cup is made from silver and includes a cover. Its bowl has a round funnel with a concave ring: a distinctive feature Exeter cups. The bowl was engraved with a single strap work band enclosing an arabesque scroll. The cup features a baluster stem and a flared foot, decorated with egg, dart and billet mouldings. A Tudor rose was also added and Hilliard punched his maker’s mark onto the rim of the cup.

Despite the highly skilled craftsmanship we see on this communion cup, its decoration is restrained in comparison to the old Catholic chalices. These were often made entirely from gold and adorned with ornate images. This change in religious aesthetic shows how transformations in religious doctrine were echoed in 16th century material culture. Protestants felt Catholic furnishings were excessive and sinful. They advocated humbler forms of worship, which we see in Richard’s simple but elegant cup.
Accession Loan No.
Collection Class
Common Name
communion cup and cover
Simple Name
cup and cover
Full Name
communion cup and cover
whole height 200 mm; cover diameter 93 mm; whole weight 309.5 grams
Production Person Surname
Production Person Initials
Period Classification
Elizabethan (1558-1603)
Production Date
c 1572
Production Year Low
Production Year High
Production Town
Production County
Production Country
United Kingdom: England
Production Area Region
Northern Europe
Production Continent
Family Group


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