Wednesday, December 4, 2013

More Square and Round Communion Tokens

A pair of CTs from Dirleton Kirk.
Early squares and rounds might have served different functions.
     Take the case of Dirleton Parish in East Lothian. This small village located on the south shore of the Firth of Forth boasts of a stone church dating back to 1612 or shortly thereafter. The structure was dedicated to St. Andrews. It was enlarged in 1650 with the addition of an aisle extending from the right wall that has gained notoriety as one of the first neoclassical structures in Scotland. All counted, there were 600 sittings.
     Two tokens were produced for this church: a round one and a square one (BK291-292). They are simple pieces, one-sided and dateless. The name of the parish is abbreviated: DRL with a line over top to designate the contraction. The letters are in relief and contained within a sunken panel. Apparently, the pieces were molded into squares or rounds and a punch was applied.
     Close inspection of the tokens reveals that the punch used for both shapes is the same. The D is large and thick; the R is a big smaller and higher. The contraction line over top starts at the right edge of the D and almost bisects the upright of the L. Any differences are due to steadiness of hand or press and the pressure applied when sinking the punch (plus wear & tear after production). As such, it is reasonable to suggest that they were made at the same time. But for what purpose?
     It has been suggested that different shaped tokens were given to men and women respectively. The practice of separating men and women in church was established by the apostles. St. Augustine (354AD-430AD) wrote: "The masses flock to the churches ... where a seemly separation of the sexes is observed; where they learn how they may so spend this earthly life."
     Many Presbyterian churches in the USA have separate doorways for men and women. This does not seem to be the case in the Scottish churches that I have seen pictures of. Dirleton has only a single doorway. But this does not tell us how seating was arranged within, or how the communion service was conducted. By the mid-1800s, separate seating gave way to family seating in many churches.
Dirleton Kirk was constructed in the early seventeenth
century. It was enlarged several times, including the aisle
projecting from the right wall. This latter addition was
built about 1660 and is known as the Dirleton Aislie.
The Gothic pinnacles were added in the 1830s.
(Image is from Wikipedia/public domain)
     There are other reasons why CTs of different shapes were made at the same time. For example, there is evidence from session records to show that communion services held on consecutive Sundays required different tokens to insure that no one attended twice.
     Are there other reasons? Perhaps there was a status difference that was signaled by each of the token shapes. Some CTs made of silver in the USA were probably given to a select few.
     As for the Dirleton CTs, no one knows for sure why they were made round and square. All of the above reasons are plausible with the separation between men and women at the top of the list and consecutive services a close second. Maybe the session records contain an answer, as these records apparently date back to 1655.
     Another well-known example of square and round CTs from the same parish (presumably made at the same time) are those from Dunfermline (BK334-335). These are the charming ones with the overlapping hearts -- readers may recall that a pair of these sold for high prices a few months ago. There are other examples too. But how about the rectangular (16x13mm) versus square (13mm) CTs from Combie & Dundurn (BK234-235)?
     In any case, the two shapes remind us that different CTs were used by the same congregation at the same time. Yes, shapes did evolve over time, but not always in the same ways within a particular parish or geographic region.
     I wonder who got the rounds and who got the squares? I think the square ones are more manly.

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