Made of silver and gold this is the oldest surviving Waterford chalice in existence. It was made in 1595 for a Franciscan priest, Fr John Luker although at this time the Franciscan Friary in Waterford had been suppressed for over fifty years. It is a symbol of the fact that despite the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII the Franciscans clandestinely continued to minister to the urban poor in Waterford.
The Luker chalice was lost for many centuries. In the turbulent 17th century it was wrapped probably in vestments by a priest trying to escape detection and buried at the bottom of a holy well in in Killoughternane, County Carlow.
It was rediscovered at the end of the 19th century by an old woman. On its discovery the chalice was used to celebrate Mass in a local pattern or religious festival at the holy well. It is still used once a year as part of this festival.
The Franciscan Friary in Waterford was closed in 1540 following the dissolution of the monasteries in England and Ireland by King Henry VIII. However the king gave a local merchant a charter to open a Catholic alms house in the dissolved friary. This new alms house was called the Holy Ghost Hospital and the Franciscans continued to minister secretly to the inmates. One of these Franciscan priests was Fr John Luker. The Luker family was one of the chief merchant families of the city and are known to have rented rooms in Reginald's Tower. Richard Luker served as bailiff of Waterford in 1559 and as sheriff of the county in 1574. The inscription on the base of the chalice tells us that in 1595, two years before his death, Fr John was presented with this chalice by his family.
When he died he was buried in the churchyard of the Church of Our Lady in Lady Lane. However he had always expressed a wish to be buried in the graveyard of the dissolved Franciscan Friary and a number of local men decided to exhume him in the dead of night and rebury him in the friary. A witness to the exhumation and reburial was a young boy Luke Wadding, the son of a rich merchant who was one of those secretly fulfilling the late friar's dying wish. Wadding recounted the story of that night many years later while living in Rome. When the body of John Luker was exhumed it was found to be incorrupt. Even his sandals were perfect.
This had a huge impact on the young Luke Wadding who imediately resolved to join the Franciscan order. Unable to complete his education in Waterford because of the suppression of the monasteries he first went to Portugal and then to Spain. His talents soon brought him to the attention of King Philip III of Spain who sent him as part of a delegation to the pope in Rome to promulgate the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. While in Rome Wadding re-organised the calendar of saints making the 17th of March the official feast day of the national patron, St Patrick.
Luke Wadding also founded two Irish colleges for the education of young men to the priesthood so that they could return to Ireland where Catholic seminaries were outlawed and serve their congregations. Wadding was the only Irishman whose name was put forward for the position of pope.
He died in Rome in 1658 and is buried in St Isidore's College there.