Apostle Spoons Their History And Beginnings
Where Did The Inspiration Come From For Apostle Spoons
It’s hard to think about where such inspiration for such delicate designs came from. However, it is known that Wells Cathedral was one of the inspirations for the collection of extraordinary Apostle Spoons.
You can see on the Wells Cathedral, at the West Front, that a statue of Christ the Judge (late 20th century) stands above his twelve apostles and nine archangels statues.
So, it is apparent to see that these striking figure statues of Jesus Christ and his twelve apostles have been miniaturized onto the top of the Apostle Spoons.
What exactly are Apostle Spoons?
To give someone an Apostle Spoon was a custom that went all the way back to the Pre-Reformation times. It was not until the reign of Charles II that the spoons first design vanished entirely. (The original design being the bowl that was pear-shaped, solid tapering shank and a lengthy figure as a finial).
When Charles II was on the throne, huge changes meant that the shape and form of the spoon had turned into what all modern types are copied from today.
Why Were They Given? Who Were They Given To?
The practise was for a child’s Godparents to gift a Silver spoon at a Christening. The spoon would have a figure of a Saint placed on top of the handle of the spoon and the child was usually given the Saint which had the same name as them. So, if their name was Simon then it would be correct to give them a Saint Simon’s Apostle Spoon.
Due to this practise, the first 15th century spoons tended to survive separately. The most popular saintly figures at the time were of St. James and St. John.
It was very uncommon to see complete and full sets being given. Only two sets contain the even rarer Master spoon (Jesus Christ).
Trying to Maintain The Custom Design
It’s extremely difficult to try and maintain the timeless artistry of these pieces but the Birmingham Mint have eagerly researched and tried to recreate the first designs of the 15th century. The Apostle figures back then were of very boorish detail but the West Front of the Wells Cathedral has provided credible medieval models for the Master and his twelve Apostles.
Overall, the whole collection combines designs and styles which go back over 500 years. Designs, today, are not usually seen since contemporary styles of the spoons are often simply reshaped 18th century tablespoons.
The Master & His 12 Apostles:
Who Were They?
Of course, we know that there are 12 Apostles and one Master as the finials on the spoons. In this section I shall briefly explain who each man was and little detail about them in no particular order.
Saint James the Greater
Name: Saint James the Greater
Emblem: The Pilgrim’s Staff
Feast Day: 25th July
Saint James was the brother to Saint John and was named “the Greater” to separate him from the other apostle Saint James “the Less”. James and John were Galilean fishermen who came away from their nets to follow the teachings of Christ. Later, James the Greater was to see Christ’s agony in the Gethsemane garden.
The Acts of the Apostles therefore inform us that James was the first apostle to become a martyr because he was put to the death by King Herod Agrippa I. There are stories of his body being taken from Jerusalem to Spain which meant there was a huge popularity since the Middle Ages of pilgrimage to the Shrine of Santiago de Compostela, where he is said to still lie.
Name: Saint Jude
Emblem: The Halberd
Feast Day: 28th October
Saint Jude is also called Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus and was customly the apostle who journeyed far on missions in company with Simon. Thus, his emblem was seen to be a ship at times. The halberd here was the instrument of his martyrdom, supposedly taken place in Persia, from where he had travelled to with Simon to preach the gospel.
Despite evidence not being strong, it is said that Jude is credited with the scribing of the Epistle of Jude in the New Testament. St. Jude is well-known these days, as the saint who people went to by people in desperate trouble, often through the personal columns of newspapers.
Name: Saint Matthew
Emblem: The Tax-Collector’s Bag
Feast Day: 21st of September
Saint Matthew is well-known as the tax collector at Capernaum. It was here that Christ called him from his work to become an apostle. This event is recorded in the gospel of St. Matthew and this Matthew is said to be the author, though Mark and Luke refer to him as Levi.
Little is known of Matthew’s life later on and is said to have taken Christianity to fellow Jews. He was eventually martyred in Ethiopia or Persia. Yet these references cannot be regarded as reliable fact.
Name: Saint Philip
Emblem: The Short Latin Cross
Feast Day: 1st of May
From Bethsaida, Philip was the apostle who brought St. Bartholomew to Jesus Christ. It is known, through the gospel of St. John, that Philip held a position of importance among all the other apostles. Certain Greeks when wishing to meet with Jesus had first to talk to Philip. During the Last Supper it was Saint Philip that asked, “Lord, shew us the Father,” and Christ replied, “I am in the Father, and the Father in me.”
It is not known if Philip was martyred but it was said he preached in the gospel in Phrygia and died in Hierapolis. It is claimed that he and both his daughters are buried there. The first symbol for Philip was three loaves, sometimes confused with money bags. Therefore, it was changed in 1570 for the short cross.
Here we have one set of Apostle spoons that are much larger to the smaller set of spoons we have. You can see Saint Philip and his emblems very clearly here. You can appreciate the detail and hard work that’s gone into this spoon. But it is not until you’ve actually held on in your hand that you realise how magnificent they truly are.
Name: Saint Bartholomew
Emblem: The Flaying Knife
Feast Day: 24th of August
He was possibly known was the man Nathanael, to whom St. John’s gospel refers to. We are given an interesting insight of his first meeting with Jesus Christ. Other sources tell us little about Bartholomew except that he was summoned to Christ’s side as one of the apostles. Later, he was credited with preaching the gospel in India and Armenia. He was allegedly martyred here by being flayed alive, hence his emblem.
Name: Saint Peter
Emblem: The Keys of Heaven
Feast Day: 29th of June
Saint Peter was the leader of the apostles and was later leader of the Christian Church. He was called to follow the ways of Christ and to be a “fisher of men”, as was his brother. He was first called Simon but was later given a name by Christ – “Kepha” which meant “rock” which was an Aramaic name.
The Greek translation “Petros” gives us the name “Peter” in English. After his denial of Christ, and the command of the risen Lord to “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep,” Peter then began his considerable work. He was a missionary to Samaria and Antioch. Eventually, he went to Rome and tradition says he was martyred in Nero’s reign. He was crucified upside down.
The Master. Jesus Christ: the Saviour
Name: The Master. Jesus Christ: the Saviour.
Emblem: The Orb and Cross, with right hand raised in blessing.
Name: Saint John
Emblem: The cup, with right hand raised in blessing
Feast Day: 27th of December
Named “the Divine” and brother to Saint James the Greater. They together were called “the sons of thunder” by Christ. John was there at the transfiguration and at Gethsemane. Christ entrusted him with the care of his mother and was the first to recognise the risen Lord when he arose at the Sea of Tiberias.
The Acts of the Apostles show him as a companion of Peter and is regarded by St. Paul as a leader of the church of Jerusalem. John was exiled to Patmos for his preaching of the gospel, and it was said he died in Ephesus after living to an old age. St. John was traditionally seen as the author of the fourth gospel, three epistles and the book of Revelation. The cup, his emblem, comes from an early story of him drinking from a poisoned chalice and surviving.
Name: Saint Simon
Emblem: The Saw and Open Book
Feast Day: 28th of October
Also called “the Zealot”, “Zelotes” or “the Cananaean” – all of which refer to his zealous nature, or him being a member of a Nationalist party. As you may notice, he shares his feast say with Saint Jude, with whom he is alleged to have been martyred in Persia. Little is known about his life after the Crucifixion and Resurrection. His emblem is connected to his martyrdom as he was supposed to have been sawed in half.
Saint James the Less
Name: Saint James the Less
Emblem: The fuller’s bat
Feast Day: 1st of May
Son of Alphaeus, he was identified with the man the New Testament names “the Lord’s brother”. So, if this was true then this particular James was leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem and was said to be martyred there.
Modern records say he was stoned to death. Later records say that James was called to persuade people to deny their belief in Christ. As a result of this he was thrown down from a temple and then stoned and beaten to death. This could have been why his emblem is a fuller’s bat, maybe he was beaten with it.
Name: Saint Andrew
Emblem: The cross Saltire
Feast Day: 30th of November
He was first of the apostles to be called by Jesus as his job as a fisherman. He brought his brother Simon (Peter) to Christ and he is mentioned throughout the gospels. They were now to be referred to as “fishers of men”. Records of his later life are not clear. He is alleged to have been martyred by crucifixion at Patras in Achaia.
The X-shaped cross as his emblem stems from a belief from the middle ages that he was martyred on such a cross. It is also known that Andrew was first bishop at Byzantium. St. Andrew is now well-known as the patron saint of Scotland.
Name: Saint Thomas
Emblem: The Carpenter’s Square
Feast Day: 21st of December
Thomas, called Didymus was a twin and well remembered as the apostle who was unsure about the Resurrection. Yet was convinced after the risen Lord appeared. Thomas then devoted his life to missionary work and his name was often connected with India. Yet factual evidence of writings are factual. His emblem stems from the legend that he built a church in India with his own hands.
Name: Saint Matthias
Emblem: The double-headed axe
Feast Day: 24th of February
Saint Matthias was not elected to the company until after the Ascension. He was apparently chosen by the drawing of lots in order to replace Judas Iscariot. The emblem of an open bible and a double headed axe is testimony to reports of his later life where he was supposed to be martyred by beheading after his missionary work. Other sources tell of his crucifixion.
The respect that came from the earliest Apostle spoons was mostly from a great appreciation of the excellent and intricate craftsmanship that was put into them.
The Birmingham Mint felt that their re-creation really could not be complete if their spoons did not have careful attention to every single detail of manufacture. They felt it was very important to have an extensive use of hand finishing on every spoon they made.
Rather than the spoons being stamped out, the spoons bowls have been rolled and cross-rolled to shape them. Every single finial figure is cast in solid silver and is then softly shaded to bring out all the features so that you can see clearly each saints individual symbol. Finally, every spoon is hand polished to a brilliant finish.
So you can really gain an image in your head how much effort has gone into keeping the traditional look of these spoons. The Master spoon is larger than the other apostle spoons and it makes a wonderful centrepiece amongst the others.
So there you have it! I hope I have managed to explain well the true craftsmanship that goes into each and every spoon. They really are extremely outstanding and each hold a huge amount of history and meaning.
I hope you’ll find this blog about Apostle Spoons very interesting and informative!
Our Very Own Solid Silver Apostle Spoon