The Forbes Chalice

The Chalice commissioned for Divine Service in St Paul’s Church, Dundee, by Alexander Penrose Forbes, Bishop of Brechin (1817-1875)

In March 1853, as the site was being prepared for the new church on Castlehill, Bishop Forbes asked St Paul’s Vestry to agree to the recasting of the church plate – the vessels used in celebration of the Eucharist. He said that the existing plate, inherited from the 1740s, acceptable in a time of persecution and in small chapels, was now, ‘almost useless from the badness of the form, besides being very inappropriate for a Gothic Church’. Forbes believed that the emotional and aesthetic influence of beautiful objects in worship would strengthen belief and encourage regular attendance. The Vestry were asked to consider recasting, ‘in such a manner as to secure the identity of the respective donors, but at the same time to obtain vessels better suited for Divine Service’.[1]

The Vestry approved and during the 1850s several vessels were recast. In March 1860, Forbes reported that he had sent a salver presented in 1802 by ‘Mrs Provost Geekie of the Ogilvy family of Ruthven’[2], and an unmarked chalice, to the London goldsmith, John Keith. These had been recast into a ‘very beautiful Chalice and Paten’, made of silver gilt and set with enamels and gemstones.[3] The chalice was designed by George Edmund Street (1824-81), a leading architect of the Gothic Revival. Street, who trained with George Gilbert Scott, is best known as architect of the Royal Courts of Justice.[4] However, as superintendent of the Ecclesiological Society, dedicated to returning the Anglican Church to ‘the splendours of the Middle Ages’, he was responsible for designing numerous churches, interiors, furniture and church plate.

The Revd. Roger Lingard-Guthrie, an Oxford colleague of Forbes who served as honorary priest at St Paul’s, and his wife, Helen Kinloch Guthrie, contributed £30 towards the cost of recasting. A ruby, said to be given to Forbes in India and set into his ring, and the pearls of the late Lady Jane Ogilvy, were among the jewels which adorned the chalice.[5]  To commemorate both original donation and recasting, the inscription on the base reads: ‘AD 1802 In usam altaris Ecclesiae Beati Pauli Deidonensis in Dioecei Brechinensi AD 1860’ (1802 for the use of the altar in the Church of the Blessed Paul in Dundee 1860). The rim of the bowl is inscribed: ‘Calicem salutari accipiam et nomen Domini invocabo’ (I will take the chalice of salvation and call on the name of the Lord).

The chalice was widely praised at the International Exhibition in London in 1862, and thereafter chalice and paten were used at the Eucharist in St Paul’s Church by Bishop Forbes and his successors. In 1905, the church was raised to the status of Cathedral of the Diocese of Brechin. Since 2005, the chalice has been on loan to the V & A Museum in London.


[1] Minutes of the Vestry of St Paul’s Church Dundee, 8 March 1853.

[2] A ‘Mrs Geekie’ was listed as a member of the Qualified English Chapel in Dundee in 1776 and 1784. She was probably the wife or widow of Henry Geekie, Provost of Dundee in 1774-76 and 1780-82. David Dobson, Dundee Episcopalians (Dundee 2011).

[3] Vestry Minutes, 10 March 1860.

[4] There is a statue in memory of G E Street in the Central Hall of the Royal Courts of Justice. He was known to Bishop Forbes and his family. He designed the Chapel of St Mary for the Sisterhood of St Mary and St Modwenna in Dundee in 1870 (now demolished). Street also undertook projects for the Forbes family and circle in Aberdeenshire, including the Church of St John the Evangelist on the family estate at New Pitsligo, the Chapel at Haddo House and the Chapel and Library at Drum Castle.

[5] See Rev. Edward Gough, Notes on the History and Fabric of the Church of St Paul, Dundee (Dundee 1888).