I was puzzled when I first walked into St. Columba’s Chapel on Aquidneck Island back in 1996. What was that thing dangling above the altar? I was told it was a hanging pyx used instead of a tabernacle or aumbry for the reserved sacrament. Since that time I have visited England several times and saw many hanging pyxes. These are not common in America, although the one in the photo above is a new addition to a church in New York. Here is their description of it:
“The blessed sacrament, that is, the consecrated bread from the Eucharist, is reserved in most churches using a small cabinet called a tabernacle or an aumbry. In our parish, we reserve in what is called a hanging pyx. The pyx consists of an orb, surmounted with a maltese cross containing a cabochon lapis. Above the pyx is a dove, suggesting the Holy Spirit of God. The pyx is lowered by a mechanical device when the sacrament is needed to take communion to the sick or shut-in. Inside the orb is a canister called a viaticum, which contains the consecrated bread. The pyx is an adaptation of a medieval mode of reserving the sacrament and may have developed as a way of securing the sacrament at a protective height so it could not be vandalized or eaten by animals who might wander into the church.The pyx was designed and crafted by Christopher den Blaker,a Village artist.”
In centuries past, these receptacles were sometimes made in the actual shape of a dove like the one to the left in England- or also took the form of a breadbox covered with a veil like the photo below from a church in Suffolk.
The hanging pyx at St. Columba’s is magnificent and is unveiled. We shall be seeing it on our Spring “Church Crawl” so I will not post the photograph of it here!