Byzantine (Attarouthi, Syria), 500–650
Silver and silver with gilding
These well-wrought liturgical objects—chalices, censers, a strainer, and a representation of the dove of the Holy Spirit—were among the possessions of a Christian church in the affluent merchant town of Attarouthi in Syria, then one of the richest lands of the Byzantine empire. The chalices, censers, and strainer were used for the Divine Liturgy, or Eucharist service, in which Christians take consecrated wine and bread in commemoration of the Last Supper and Christ's death. According to their inscriptions, written in Greek with several spelling variants, many of the objects were offerings of local citizens to the major church of the town, which was dedicated to Saint Stephen, and to a smaller church dedicated to Saint John (probably Saint John the Baptist). In the early seventh century, Syria fell first to the Sasanian Persians and then to the armies of Islam. These works were probably buried in haste in a protective container at some moment when the Byzantine army was retreating from attacks on the region.