I wonder what this spoon, which has survived for three hundred years, has stirred, or served, since it was first made? It is a 17thC Apostle spoon with an engraving of `Ave Maria` on the bowl. There are also further marks and chasings made during the Edwardian era, so it has obviously been used over the years – perhaps to serve sugar, or tea. Generations of servants may have lovingly polished it, or perhaps it has been bartered from hand to hand through trade, secretly through gambling or crime, or maybe it just sat on a cushion in a cabinet in some wealthy Catholic household.
An apostle spoon has this name because the stem bears an image of an apostle or other saint on the handle. These spoons were particularly popular before the reformation, when Catholicism was England’s main religion, and belief in patron saints was still strong. This particular spoon was possibly made as a demonstration piece as it features St Eligius, who is the patron saint of gold and silversmiths. St Eligius is usually shown with a crook, and a church in one hand.
St Eligius’s story – Eligius was trying to shoe a difficult horse, so to avoid upsetting the horse any more, Eligius miraculously removed one of the horse’s forelegs, shod the hoof, and then miraculously reattached the leg to the horse. (Don’t try this at home!) For this reason, he became a saint associated with blacksmiths, and then with all metalworkers.
Usually apostle spoons were in a set of thirteen. They featured the twelve disciples, with the thirteenth showing Jesus. This particular one was called the ‘Saviour’ or ‘Master’ spoon, however The British Museum in London has a Tudor set with a figure of the Virgin Mary instead. the idea originated in the early-sixteenth century. The name first appeared in the will of a woman called Amy Brent who, in 1516, listed as items – “XIII sylver spones of J’ hu and the XII Apostells.” Tudor and early Stuart families gave them as christening presents, but by the time Cromwell came to rule, Puritanism put paid to such elaborate representations, considering them to be ‘idols’. In other parts of Europe, though, this tradition continued until at least the mid-twentieth century.
Few examples of sets of the twelve apostles survive, and complete sets of thirteen, with the figure of Jesus on a larger spoon, are even rarer.
Here are the symbols commonly associated with each saint, and which help to identify who’s who on the individual spoons within a set.
- 1 Jesus : cross and orb
- 2 Saint Peter: a sword or a key, sometimes a fish
- 3 Saint Andrew: a cross
- 4 Saint James the Greater: a pilgrim’s staff
- 5 St. John: the cup of sorrow
- 6 Saint Philip: a staff
- 7 Saint Bartholomew: a knife
- 8 Saint Thomas: an oar
- 9 Saint Matthew: an axe
- 10 Saint James the Lesser: a fuller’s tool
- 11 Saint Jude: a carpenter’s set square
- 12 Saint Simon Zealotes: a saw
- 13 Judas Iscariot: a bag of money