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The “LUCK OF EDENHALL”

The beaker was probably made in Aleppo, Syria, but its fame occurred on English soil, where it had been taken by a returning Crusader. The quality of Syrian glass was renowned; in Europe the technology to make clear glass did not even exist. With its gilded and enameled decoration, the beaker must have seemed just short of miraculous when it arrived in Edenhall, a noble house in the far north of England. It was precious enough to have probably been used as a chalice. A leather case was made for the beaker in the fourteenth century bearing the sacred IHS monogram. Over the centuries the real history of the glass was forgotten and replaced by legend, like this one reported in an eighteenth-century magazine:

A party of Fairies were drinking and making merry round a well near the Hall, called St. Cuthbert’s well, but being interrupted by the intrusion of some curious people they were frightened, and made a hasty retreat and left the cup in question: one of them screaming out “If this cup should break or fall Farewell the Luck of Edenhall.”

Just such a demise was imagined by a German romantic poet, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

As the goblet ringing flies apart
Suddenly cracks the vaulted hall
And through the rift the wildfires start
The guests in dust are scattered all,
With the breaking Luck of Edenhall.

 

Enameled and gilded vessels were the most highly prized type of Islamic glass. Production of it was a specialty in Egypt and Syria, areas controlled by the Ayyubids and Mamluks during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It is an extremely demanding technique. Gold and colored enamels, themselves made of opaque powdered
glass, were bound in an oil medium and painted on the surface. Then the glass was refi red to fi x them. Careful monitoring of kiln temperatures and multiple re-firings were required because the gold and different enamel colors fuse at different temperatures.

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