Page last updated at 13:14 GMT, Monday, 28 September 2009 14:14 UK

Cash-strapped church's 1.8m cup

Lacock Chalace
No one knows who originally donated the Lacock Chalice

A Wiltshire church with a repair bill has seen its prayers answered - with a unique silver chalice worth £1.8m.

The treasure is being described as one of the best examples of medieval silverware anywhere in the world.

It was donated to St Cyriac's Church in the village of Lacock about 400 years ago, but had never been accurately valued until recently.

Now officials must decide if they will sell it to the British Museum to pay a £350,000 bill for church upkeep.

'Splendid object'

St Cyriac's Church is a medieval, grade I-listed building dating back to 1420.

Despite having just spent £250,000 on roof repairs, the Parochial Church Council (PCC) must still find over a third of a million for a variety of upkeep costs.

The chalice has been on display with the British Museum since 1963, and church officials say they would not be able to insure it, should it return to the village.

The museum has recently expressed interest in turning the loan into a purchase.

A British Museum spokeswoman said: "We're keen to purchase this splendid object and await the reply from its current owners."

'Very important'

John Catchpole, from the PCC, said: "I think I've always been aware of its significance, it's clearly a very important piece of church silver.

"It's difficult to value. The only figure that I can really mention is the value for which it is insured by The British Museum which is £1.8m, but that's an insurance value.

"That doesn't mean to say that that is the value that you would get for the cup if you were to sell it on the open market, far from it."

But it is not a straightforward matter to sell church-owned silver.

Officials must apply for a 'faculty' - similar to a planning application - to allow the transfer to take place.

Mr Catchpole added: "It's quite a formal and legal process and there are many stages to it, we are only just about at the beginning of that process, however I do think that it would be a prudent course to try to see if it is possible to sell the chalice to the museum".

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