Wednesday, 9 October 2013

On an Ancient Mazer at Holy Trinity Church, Colchester: Transactions n.s. Volume 3 Part 1

An extract from Transactions n.s. Volume 3 Part 1 (1885)

By Henry Laver.

Mazer temp. Richard II. Holy Trinity Church, Colchester

In looking over some of the earlier volumes of the Archaeological Journal, I noticed a woodcut of a Mazer, said to be of the time of Richard the Second, and this struck me as being very like one among the Church Plate of this parish. Having compared our bowl with the woodcut, I find, that with the exception of the motto, it exactly tallies, pattern, size, material and ornamentation being the same; and as this Society is endeavouring to get a record of the Church plate of this County, I thought it might interest some of our members if I gave a short notice of it. The term mazer is, as many may be aware, of considerable antiquity, and is applied to any woodon bowl, probably being derived from the Dutch maser, maple, this being the wood of which they appear originally to have been formed; but it was not exclusively confined to those, as a wooden bowl was termed a mazer, even when the rim was formed of metal, as in the accompanying illustration. The purposes for which the mazer was used were various; there were heavy thick mazers for ordinary household or kitchen use, others were evidently used as drinking vessels; as was probably the one under consideration. There is a very ancient one at Saffron Walden, very similar in size and make, mentioned by Pepys in his diary, another also forms part of the plate of Oriel College, Oxford, both of these have been kept for their original purpose, drinking vessels, but ours, which may have been made for church ales, is now and has been from time immemorial, used as a "decent bason" to collect alms in the church, we have, however, no account as to the time it came into the possession of this parish(1) The lower part is of some hard wood, apparently maple, and is of the usual bason shape ; on the inside, at the bottom, is a raised circular plate of silver gilt, with the Christian monogram I.H.S., on it, and with this exception the wooden part is perfectly plain. The silver gilt rim is about two inches deep, smooth on the inside, and is riveted on the top of the wood, so that the upper half of the bason is silver. The outside of this rim is ornamented, and running round the middle is this inscription, in early English letters, "Kaspar fert myrram, tus Melchior, Baltazar aurum;" these being the names of the wise men who brought their offerings, according to the old church legend. If it was not made for a collecting vessel, the inscription is very appropriate to a vessel used for that purpose, as this is.

Saxon Tower of Holy Trinity Church,
Colchester (now redundant)
There is no Hall mark, and the absence justifies us in supposing that it may have been made before Hall marks were introduced; or, at all events, before the compulsory use of them was carried out very strictly; and this we know was the case, on their first introduction during the early years of Richard the second. The lightness of the silver plate has been, I suppose, the safety of this interesting relic. During the Cromwellian troubles it would not have been of much service for melting, or for stamping into coin, and, in later years, when the plate of this church was sold to procure new, it would not have realized sufficient to induce the Goths of the period to pay its carriage to London. Should the date claimed for it, namely Richard the Second, prove correct, as I have no doubt it will, it is, probably, the most ancient piece of church plate in the county, and therefore well worth illustrating in our Transactions. If not of the greatest antiquity it is, I think, the most quaint, and is an example of a method of collecting alms rarely in use in this county, although I have heard that in some out-lying parishes in Hampshire an ordinary earthenware bason is very commonly adopted, as agreeably to the rubrical directions of a “decent bason."


(1) Among the Church goods of Hornchurch temp, Edw. Vl. is “a maser wt a narrow bonde of sylver." See page 42, ante with note thereon. 

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