of Small Collectors

  versione italiana article # 34




by Giorgio Guida and Giorgio Busetto
click on images to enlarge


The 'PAX' (note 1) is an Eucharistic tablet decorated on the front with a Sacred Scene that was kissed by the priest celebrating the Mass, then offered to the kiss of other officiates and, finally, to the faithful.
It was called 'osculum pacis' or 'tabella pacis' and was used since the 13th century replacing the ancient 'kiss of the peace' which preceded the Holy Communion.
The ancient use of the 'PAX' is certified by the mention of the 'osculatorium' on Archbishop of York Walter de Gray's Statutes (1250).
The 'PAX' was usually rectangular (but there are some round examples) with a small base and a handle for its standing (it was used also as a small portable altar).
The ' PAX ' was made of many different materials (gold, silver, bronze, ivory, glass) and different and often conjoined techniques (embossing, bas-relief, niello, engraving, enameling). (Dizionario di Antiquariato - A. Vallardi-Garzanti, Milano 1992)

Here below are the images of four silver 'PAX' made in Venice in 18th century.

The Virgin Mary with Children and Saints Our Lady and Dead Christ
The Virgin Mary with Children
and Saints
Our Lady and Dead Christ
The Virgin Mary with Children Our Lady and Dead Christ
The Virgin Mary with Children Our Lady and Dead Christ


Italian silver 'pax' 1617 This is the detailed description of an item made in Genoa (Italy). It is a thin sheet of silver, embossed and chiseled, weighing 7.7 oz. (220 grams), 10 1/4 in. high (26 cm.) including the die-cast crucifix on a laminated cross. The plate is 6 1/2 in. tall (cm. 16,5) and 6 in. wide (cm. 15).
The iconography represents the death of the Virgin Mary lying on the bed (note 2) and Her Assumption to Heaven.
This image is inspired by an ancient Byzantine icon in Middle-East style preserved in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Montallegro in Rapallo, representing the Heaven ascent of Mary.
On the sides there are two Saints: on the left St.John with the cross and on the right St. Roch with the pilgrim's stick.

 a member of the Confraternity
In the side ledges two kneeling 'brothers':
a member of the Confraternity the figure on the right, with more fluttering clothing and of more feminine appearance presumably is a 'sister'.

The Latin inscription on the base reads:

SOCIET (IS) societatis
DISCIP ( M) disciplinatorum
RAP (I) Rapalli
ELEEM (A) elemosina (nti)

(a rough English translation is: CHARITY'S BROTHERHOOD OF RAPALLO - 1617)

This means that the 'PAX' was ordered by a 'Confraternita' (brotherhood) or 'Casaccia' (Societatis Disciplinatorum) having as objective the moral rigour, the penitence (scourging) and the charity, operating in the 'Oratorio dei Bianchi' (Oratory of the 'Whites') still existent in Rapallo (the'Whites' perhaps derives from the color of their garments).

'torretta' hallmark On the bottom left there's the 'torretta' hallmark and on the right side the silversmith's monogram C B.
A doctoral thesis on 'Genoa's silversmiths of 17th century' assumes that the 'PAX' was made by Flemish silversmith Cornelius Braj, active in Genoa in the first half of 17th century.
The error of the double EE on the inscription of ELEMOSINA would be a confirmations of this hypothesis.


silversmith C B

back view with the handle This item is of exceptional rarity and among the more ancient silver objects hallmarked 'torretta' (1617), so that even the prestigious Saving Bank of Genoa's collection has no item of similar age.
The 'Repubblica Democratica Ligure' of 1798 ('Democratic Republic Ligurian') and later the Napoleonic occupation left partly untouched the silver of persons and of Church property but expropriated the silver belonging to 'Confraternite' (brotherhoods).
The devotional silver 'not tightly necessary to the religion' (as the 'PAX') was expropriated, saving from melting only Chalices, Monstrances and thuribles.
The confiscation included the 'PAX', the processional maces, the 'crowns of thorns', the nails of the processional crosses and any other silver equipment belonging to the 'Confraternita'.



(1) 'pax' is a Latin word. In English it means 'peace'
(2) the Catholic Church uses the Latin definition 'Dormitio Virginis' (Virgin Mary's sleep)

Giorgio Guida
Giorgio Busetto -
- 2005 -
English text revision: Jayne Dye