“Church plate” is the term we use to describe particular objects in a church’s collection made from precious and semi-precious metals. These metal objects often have a specific function and are used in Christian worship.
For example, a “chalice” is a special type of cup, typically made from gold or silver, which is used to carry wine, while a “paten” is a small metal dish, on which communion wafers are placed. Both chalice and paten play an important role in the Eucharist – the Christian sacrament in which bread and wine are shared among members of the congregation.
The Cathedral Treasury contains a number of interesting chalices and patens, as well as other items, such as flagons and tankards.
In January, we completed a survey of objects in the Treasury showcases, which involved checking the condition of and then polishing each item of silver as part of our ongoing maintenance programme.
Polishing plays an important role in retaining the condition of silver by removing tarnish. Tarnish is caused by sulphur compounds in the atmosphere, combined with the accumulation of salts and grease deposits. It can lead to gradual discolouration in the metal and a dull, matt surface.
Storing and displaying silver in appropriate conditions can help to reduce tarnish, as well as ensuring that gloves are worn when handling silver items, to minimise the transfer of oils from human fingerprints.
To polish silver, we use a silver cloth – a type of cloth enhanced with anti-tarnish properties – to gently remove any small spots of tarnish and restore the shine to the surface.