This glass chalice from the 13th Century is imprinted with strange creatures and magic, but no owl.
Instead of Harry Potter’s feathery friend, you will see a lion, griffin and an eagle etched into the glass surface. The cup was made sometime in the 1200s, most likely in Sicily. It is about fourteen centimetres high and sits on display at the British Museum. Hedwig was a Polish Saint living in the 1200s. She founded a hospital for female lepers, often walked barefoot in the snow and could turn a glass of water into wine. This last part of Hedwig’s mythology flows from her death-defying ability to drink water. Those who saw her sipping water assumed she must first transform the water into wine (which was far safer and less parasite-ridden at the time).
Hedwig was married to Duke Henry the (wonderfully) Bearded of Silesia, who was keen to spread word of his wife’s evangelical talents…glass beakers being the obvious tool for promotion in the 13th Century. She was canonised by 1267.
What is magic about this glass, however, is that it remains intact. There are fourteen that have survived through the ages. This is one of the oldest. It would originally have stood on metal mounts and been used in church services for communion. The story of Hedwig’s miraculous abilities meant the delicate glass was kept safe over the years.
You’re unlikely to see this Hedwig flying through the air, but if you do, please reach out for it before it shatters to the floor.
If you’d like to see this cup sitting alongside 99 other fascinating objects and their stories, check out Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects (London: Allen Lane, 2008).