A Mystery Cup

A silver communion cup with a deep conical bowl just didn’t look right for the job.  Engraved on the bowl on one side is the sacred monogram IHS, and on the other are armorial bearings on an oval medallion suspended from a ribbon above a wreath, and the date 1773. 

Blazon: Per pale.  Left side – Argent, a lion rampant Azure langued and armed Gules holding in his dexter paw a wreath of laurel proper and issuing from his mouth a scroll charged with the word EMMANUEL [EMMANUEL COLLEGE CAMBRIDGE]. 
Right side – impaled arms Ermine, a fess [HOMER].

Engraved beneath:   Johan. Sudbury nuper Decan: Dunelm: Henrico Homer A.B. Coll: Emman.  Αίεύ άριςεύειν. [Quotation from Homer’s Iliad:  Always excel].

Engraved on the underside of the foot in copper-plate:  The Gift of the Widow of the Revd. Spencer Cobbold, for Woolpit Church .

The Birmingham Assay Office’s date mark D is for 1776-77  –  later than the date of 1773 on the inscription.  Usually an item is made before it can be inscribed! 

The clue was in the word Dunelm, the Latin name for Durham.  After research by the Metalwork duo it was discovered that the cup was not intended to be a Communion cup but is one of the Sudbury Prizes awarded by Emmanuel College, Cambridge (whose arms are on the cup).

John Sudbury, (1604 – 1684), was born in Bury St Edmunds, educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and later became Dean of Durham from 1661-1684.  He endowed the annual prize of a sum of money for the best classics scholar of each year to commission his own silver cup.  But in 1773 the prizeman, being a student, obviously used the money for other things and only had the prize cup made three years later, in 1776. 

Henry Homer (1753 – 1791), a noted translator of classical works, won the prize in 1773. 

The Revd Spencer Cobbold was Rector of St Mary’s Woolpit from 1831-1836; his widow was Henry Homer’s sister.  The names Henry and Homer recur in three Rectors of Woolpit who descended from this family.  It seems likely that the sacred monogram and the engraving on the edge and underside of the base were added when the cup was presented to the Church.

Emmanuel College were delighted to hear of the cup because this award had been given annually for 211 years from 1676 to 1887 but they only knew of 19 other extant Sudbury prize cups.

It wasn’t intended to be a communion cup but through a chain of members of one family it ended up in the Church where no-one likes using it for communion because it is just the wrong shape to sip from without being drenched in red wine! 

West Suffolk and Bury St Edmunds Church Recording Group.