For nearly 300 years, the sterling silver communion service shared by Farnham Church and St. John’s Church in Warsaw has served the spiritual needs of its communicants. It has survived the ravages of revolution, ruin, relocation, civil war, fire and renovation and is lovingly used weekly by the members of one or the other of the two sister churches.
The four-piece set (two flagons, one paten and one chalice) was bought with money from a fund established by Queen Anne of England (who reigned from 1702 to 1714) to provide communion silver for colonial churches. It didn’t make its way across the ocean and to the altar of North Farnham Parish until after the queen’s death . Each of the four pieces bears the London date, 1720-1721, and maker’s marks with fleur de lis above and millet below. Thomas Farren is credited as the maker, although at least one dissenter credits Thomas Fainell. All four pieces are engraved with the sacred trigram in a glory (circle of light).
Following the American Revolution, Anglican churches in the former colonies were widely despised as agents of the English monarchy. The local parishes, including North Farnham (Farnham Church) and Lunenburg (St. John’s), were neglected, vandalized and looted.
Sometime between 1792 and 1802, according to church documents, the land and furnishings of Farnham Church (including the communion silver) were sold at public auction. Colonel John Tayloe III of Mount Airy in Richmond County purchased the silver to preserve it, and in 1816 he presented it for safekeeping to St. John’s Church, Washington, D.C. (The Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square sometimes called the Church of the Presidents.)
The local churches continued to fall victim to war skirmishes, neglect and occupation, until serious restoration efforts bore fruit beginning in about 1871. In 1876, by consent of the vestry and rector of St. John’s, Washington, the silver was restored to North Farnham and Lunenburg parishes. One flagon and the chalice were designated for St. John’s, Lunenburg Parish, and the other flagon and the paten were given to Farnham Church, North Farnham Parish. Each piece of silver has been engraved as follows: “Presented to St. John’s Church, Washington City by Colonel John Tayloe, December 16, 1816;” and “Restored to ‘Pharnham’ and Lunenburg Parishes by St. John’s Parish, Washington City, May 26, 1876.”
Today, the two parishes hold an annual service of thanksgiving for the gift of silver by Queen Anne. The service alternates each year between the two churches and all four pieces of silver are used. The altar flowers are always Queen Anne’s lace.
Between weekly services at either Farnham Church or St. John’s, the Queen Anne silver is secured in a bank vault. Only a few people are authorized to handle and transport the historic silver. Insurance provisions regulate its safekeeping. Each week it is retrieved from its safe haven and presented for service by the churches’ Altar Guilds. Afterward, it is carefully cleaned, usually with only soap and water, and stored away for its next appearance. It rarely requires polishing. The pieces are remarkably unblemished after their 289 years of use. The women of the two Altar Guilds have their private ideas about the origins of the two or three minor dings visible on the storied silver. They also believe there are other sets of Queen Anne silver among a few Episcopal churches in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula. Thanks to the dedicated attention of its devoted guardians, this spiritual silver bears its age with grace and elegance and will continue to serve the faithful for many centuries to come.
Thanks to: Becky Marks, Altar Guild Chair of Farnham; Courtenay Altaffer, Senior Warden of St. John’s; Mercer O’Hara, Altar Guild Chair of St. John’s; and Peter Hogg, Interim Rector. Their help was invaluable and is much appreciated.