Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Church Hoard of Communion Tokens Found

Since childhood, many of us have fantasized about discovering buried treasure.
     Of course one's definition of "treasure" depends on what you collect or are interested in (except for maybe gold -- we all would like more of that).
     If you collect Roman coins then your dream find could be an urn full of silver denarii spilling out at the edge of a garden plot. And for Spanish Colonial buffs, it could be a chest of Peruvian silver washed ashore after a hurricane. For CT collectors, how about 22 leaden pieces from the eighteenth century found in a grassy field shadowed by a ruined stone church?
The old Kirk at Abdie
     Well, this is true story. And we shall explore it forthwith.
     But first, some background. Brook mentioned in 1907 that: "Occasionally, probably because of their sacred associations, the old tokens were buried in the earth, or under the pulpit as at Kilchrenan, Argyllshire, and other churches." As such, he alludes to an example of the practice wherein old tokens were buried in the churchyard (or under the pulpit).
     We also know that churches kept old batches of tokens, such as those found at Balquidder and Cruden. Both of these hoards contained old and not so old tokens -- in fact, the Cruden hoard (found in a safe located in the rectory) had four different types spanning the history of the church. This latter church hoard contained CTs dated 1737, 1800, and 1844!
     Certainly many old tokens were melted to provide lead for the new ones. It was quite common for a new minister to order up a new batch of CTs. Hence, many old pieces were lost to the crucible. Indeed, the Reverend Whitelaw, writing in 1911, bemoaned the lost of large accumulations of tokens in this way. Gone forever.
     Not surprising, we often hear about isolated finds: a token dug from the ground in a backyard, and another one found in a cigar box of a long deceased uncle. Metal detectorists routinely find a diversity of pieces in vacant lots throughout the UK, just as they do here in the Old Dominion. In fact, where I live, hunting for Civil War relics is a popular amusement. Yes, the earth is littered with bits of our history!
     So our story begins at the old parish Kirk in Abdie, Fife -- also known as St. Magridin's Church. Now in ruins, this imposing stone edifice was built in the 13th century with a large aisle added to the north side in the 17th century. By 1824, it was determined that many expensive repairs were needed -- too many. Consequently, the church was last used on 11 November 1827. Some restoration of the ruin was made in 1856, but the church was not used again.
     The roofless shell stands next to a farm lane atop a slight knoll. Like many medieval churches, it is surrounded by a graveyard bordered by an outer wall of irregular stone. Rural splendor surrounds the grounds with forests, fields and a sandy bog along three sides with a farm house and yard located at the fourth. Here it was, in this place, that a distant congregation -- long gone, with no images to remind us -- gathered each Sunday anticipating the sacramental season.
Kerr & Lockie pictured the piece
in 1940 (KL3); Burzinski cataloged
the piece as B77.
     Burzinski lists four CTs from the parish of Abdie. Two undated rounds marked by the letter A are probably the earliest pieces due to their simple manufacture. A small rectangle measuring 16x13mm and dated 1725 is likely to be the third CT used. Finally, a modern oval dated 1849 also announces itself as an Abdie piece, but we know it was used at the new church located further down the lane. This church was built in 1827 to serve both Abdie and neighboring Dunbog.
     The 22 tokens found in the earth were all of the third type. As the date suggests, they were used at the twilight of this church's service. This provides a clue about how they came to be placed in the ground. Perhaps they were buried in the course of moving to the new church two years later. Twenty-two is not a large number: too small to carry away or melt, but enough to be placed ceremoniously in the ground within view of the old gallery -- a fitting tribute to centuries of worship and fellowship. Take a moment to imagine the scene: Was it during a misty morning? Did the minister or elder scout out a place? Or, did they know exactly where to bury them? We can never revisit this moment. But we can touch a piece of this action.
     We will explore the actual pieces in the next posting!

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