1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ciborium
CIBORIUM, a name in classical Latin for a drinking-vessel. It is the latinized form of the Gr. κιβώριον, the cup-shaped seed-vessel of the Egyptian water-lily, the seeds or nuts of which were known as “Egyptian beans.” In the early Christian Church the ciborium was a canopy over the altar (q.v.), supported on columns, and from it hung the receptacle in which was reserved the consecrated wafer of the Eucharist. The use of the word has probably been much influenced by the early false connexion with cibus, food, cf. Agatio, bishop of Pisa (quoted in Du Cange, Gloss. s.v.), “Ciborium vas esse ad ferendos cibos.” In the Eastern Church the columns rested on the altar itself, in the Western they reached the ground. The name was early transferred from the canopy to the vessel containing the reserved sacrament, and in the Western Church the canopy was known as a “baldaquin,” Ital. baldacchino, from Baldacco, the Italian name of Bagdad, and hence applied to a rich kind of embroidered tapestry made there and much used for canopies, &c. At the present day it is usual in the Roman Church to use the term “pyx” (πύξις, properly a vessel made of boxwood) for the receptacle for the reserved sacrament used in administering the viaticum to the sick or dying. Medieval pyxes and ciboria are often beautiful examples of the goldsmith’s, enameller’s and metal-worker’s craft. They take most usually the shape of a covered chalice or of a cylindrical box with conical or cylindrical cover surmounted by a cross. An exquisite ciborium fetched £6000 at the sale of the Jerdone Braikenridge collection at Christie’s in 1908. It is supposed to have come from Malmesbury Abbey, and is probably of 13th-century English make. It is of copper-gilt and ornamented with champlevé enamels, apple and chrysoprase green, scarlet, mauve and white, turquoise and lapis lazuli, the flesh tints being of a pale jasper. Various subjects from the Old and New Testament, such as the sacrifice of Abel, the brazen serpent, the nativity, crucifixion and resurrection are represented on circular medallions on the outside. It is illustrated in colours in the catalogue of the exhibition of the Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1897.