The unbelievable story of how St. Luke’s silver chalices made their way across the country and the centuries to return home.
Story By Barry Kaufman + Photos by Mike Ritterbeck
With one foot in history and one foot in mythology, the legends surrounding the Holy Grail are numerous. At its core, the quest for this legendary chalice is a quest for a deeper connection to God, to hold something that once sat at the right hand of the Son. There are many stories about the grail, but few in which the holy relic is found, because ultimately, it is quest for connection that is important.
The story surrounding the pair of silver chalices at St. Luke’s Church is shrouded in a similar blend of fact and folklore. What is known for sure is this: They were crafted from pure silver in 1834 by a celebrated English silversmith, Edward Bernard & Sons, to celebrate the re-consecration of St. Luke’s parish’s Zion Chapel of Ease, which had been in operation since the Colonial era. Each held a false bottom, presumably because the clergy only took the wine sacrament at that time.
Finally, we know that at some point they were lost to history, most likely when the original Zion Chapel of Ease was pulled down during the Civil War. Its cemetery still can be seen on corner of U.S. 278 and Mathews Drive.
From there, we can but conjecture what happened to them.
“The story goes, they were basically found in the mud and somebody grabbed them and brought them back to Pennsylvania,” said Greg Kronz, Rector at St. Luke’s. “During the Civil War nobody valued something like that. Somebody eventually sold them to an antique store/pawn shop.”
We can gather clues from these chalices that hint at tantalizing details in this story. The rims of each cup, even after restoration, bear clear signs of deep dents, long since hammered out. These dents could be from an errant footfall as they sat in the mud, or from a long journey in a saddlebag as they were carried away after the war. “You’d love to know the entire history, but obviously they were insignificant to the person that had them,” said Kronz.
Even the story of their return is shrouded in mystery.
“The rumor is some guy named Stone found them in an antique store,” said Rev. Kronz. This rumor states that “Stone” researched both the date and the name etched on the side of each chalice and decided to return them to their rightful home. As this was the late 1940s, however (or possibly the 1950s – such is the way these stories go), there was no St. Luke’s on Hilton Head Island. All that remained of the congregation was St. Helena Church in Bluffton.
Eventually, St. Luke’s returned to the island; St Helena returned the chalices. They were used to celebrate the first Christmas Eve service in the new St. Luke’s on Pope Avenue in 1964 and have been used every Sunday since then.
“This is part of who we are,” said Kronz. “The fact that they ended up here is great.”