Vindolanda Fort: Remains of Christian chalice found

Image source, Vindolanda
Image caption,
The fragments of a 6th Century Christian chalice etched with symbols are the oldest of their kind ever found in Britain, fort bosses say

Pieces of a 1,400-year-old Christian chalice have been found at a Roman fort - the oldest artefact of its kind ever found in Britain.

Fragments of the lead cup were found in the rubble of a 6th Century church at Vindolanda Roman Fort near Hexham.

Vindolanda's Director of Excavations Dr Andrew Birtley said it was the "wow factor" of rare finds.

The chalice pieces will be on display at the fort near Hadrian's Wall from Tuesday.

Image source, Vindolanda
Image caption,
It will take months to unlock the meaning of the numerous Christian symbols etched on the pieces of chalice, fort bosses say

Dr Birtley said the pieces were inscribed with Christian symbols including angels and crosses, and extensive research would need to be carried out over the next few years to unlock their meaning.

He also said the Romans had long since left the fort at that time, but the chalice showed the settlement continued to thrive in Christian worship.

"We are used to firsts at Vindolanda, with artefacts such boxing gloves, boots and shoes, but to have an object like the chalice survive into the post-Roman landscape is just as significant and has the wow factor," he said.

"It is the only surviving partial chalice from this period in Britain."

Image source, Sonya Galloway
Image caption,
Found at Vindolanda Roman fort, the Christian chalice fragments are the only ones ever found from the 6th Century in Britain

One of the symbols on the chalice is of a boat with a cross-shaped mast, believed to symbolise the Church as a vessel to take Christians to their eternal destination.

Dr Birtley said: "This artefact sheds a bright light into a time that used to be known as the Dark Ages.

"Finding a chalice smothered in Christian symbols opens up a new chapter for the 5th and 6th Centuries in northern Britain.

"Many potential church structures have been located from this period, but without the Christian artefacts to back that up, they could not be proven beyond doubt.

"It's importance for understanding the nature and spread of Christianity in the north of England."

The Romans stayed in Britain for 330 years, quitting in the early 5th Century, but the fort settlements remained.

Image source, Vindolanda
Image caption,
The chalice remnants were discovered half a metre from the surface covered in rubble

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