Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Early Communion Token or Just a Rock

Here is an intriguing object to ponder.
     A few months ago this piece was offered at auction by cobwrightfortishe -- it sold for over $100. It is from the Andrew Macmillan collection of Scottish CTs. This "token" has the letters AK scored on the obverse with a cross on the reverse. The stone measures 35x24mm.
     Is this a pre-token issue? Is it old?
     What evidence do we have?
     The circular note card that comes with the piece has some notes to get us started. First, the piece was purchased thirty-five years ago in June 1979. It was attributed by Rev. William D. Cattanach to be a pre-token issue. But there is no evidence in the form of Session records or personal accounts to support this. Furthermore, the chain of ownership does no go back to a parishioner who was awarded the piece.
     The Rev. Cattanach attribution identifies the piece as coming from Athelstaneford. This parish is located northeast of Haddington in East Lothian. The obverse letters -- AK -- are consistent enough. Brook describes a small round piece from this parish with the letters AK incused, but the lettering is hardly unique (see Ashkirk for example).
     We need to dig further.
     Athelstaneford is a small town where an epic battle between the Picts and an invading army of Angles from Northumbria took place in the year 832. The Pictish King, Oengus II, experienced a vision the night before the engagement: St. Andrew promised him a glorious victory. The following morning there appeared in the blue sky a white cross formed by clouds. This was taken as a sign, as Saint Andrew had been crucified on a diagonal white cross.
     The Picts won the day and dedicated their victory to the patron saint. Thereafter, they adopted the blue flag with diagonal white cross as the Scottish flag. The leader of the beaten army was named Athelstan, and since he had been killed in the battle by the river, this place was called Athelstanford.
     The cross on the stone is not diagonal. But could it still represent the white cross? Or is it simply Christian symbolism. Probably the latter.
     So how about the Rev. Cattanach? What do we know about him?
     He was ordained in April 1951 and received his doctorate in divinity in 1970. He was considered well-versed in church history. Incidently, he was an avid bird watcher. Rev. Cattanach was a minister in Geneva where John Knox preached, and he also served at St. George's West church in Edinburgh. He certainly was in a position to make a better guess about the stone than most of us.
     Looking back further, we know that the Romans used pebbles as counters and tokens. Often a white stone was given as a ticket to award ceremonies for those who had won an athletic competition. Of course, small stones were used as amulets or charms throughout time.
     In Revelation 2:17, the following is said: "To the victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it." Is this a ticket? A ticket that promises salvation to all believers? I leave that to the scholars to figure out.
     Then there is the Jewish tradition of placing small stones on grave markers -- a tradition that has been adopted by others.
     So what do we make of all this?
     The parish church at Athelstaneford is certainly old enough. The original church was founded in 1176, whereas the present church dates from 1780.
     Was this inscribed pebble used as a communion token? Or was it used later for a commemoration of communion in the early days? Maybe it was used for a special service or study that had nothing to do with communion.
     All of this notwithstanding, we can only trust that Rev. Cattanach knew something. But we also need to entertain a certain about of skepticism.

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